A good part of the reason I started blogging was because I went to a history conference at a UT branch up between Dallas and Fort Worth and found that, contrary to belief, many well known academic historians have found community history projects to be invaluable because of their focus and details. Photos rated high. Photos with details rate high. Interviews with participants in events rated high. Interviews with older people rated high if you cover their experience and perspective.
- Prairie Weather


“Protest works. Just look at the proof”


The last place you will hear about the new American labor movement is in big American outlets.

Via lambert, via susie. See them, their blogrolls, Twitter hash tag #1u and just about any other outlet where citizens can get the word out.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

The CIW is a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Via.


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Commissioners' meeting background: Pipelines, fracking and peering underneath the rock

Last week I posted a statement prepared for our county commissioners regarding a pipeline under construction in Portage County. As I began outlining a report on the meeting I realized a good deal of context was needed for those not in the thick of it. Here is a bit of background.

Pipelines have traditionally been understood as carrying oil, but that has begun to change with fracking. Companies now want to use them to transport various fluids associated with that process, and in places that do not already have lots of pipelines there is a new push to construct them. As the Columbus Dispatch reported last May:

Officials of the oil and gas industry said the pipelines and the plant are safe and vital to their plans to develop Ohio’s Utica shale.

A lack of natural-gas processing, industry officials say, keeps shale wells from delivering to buyers and has slowed the pace of drilling and fracking.

So places that have been targeted for fracking are seeing a new interest in pipelines. The first step in this process is securing the land along the route, and this is also perhaps the shadiest part of the process. Pipeline companies subcontract out through what are called land men. These individuals go door to door attempting to negotiate the necessary legal agreement - and at times that is an exceedingly diplomatic, anodyne and generous way to put it.

Land men are not governed by anything other than their scruples. Theoretically the companies paying them have requirements for conduct, but the arrangement more often seems designed for plausible deniability: Ask a pipeline company about allegations of unethical behavior and they will insist in the strongest terms that their contractors must adhere to the highest ethical standards - and usually that they’ve rarely or never had complaints about their land men.

Which is at least slightly disingenuous. After all, who can say what was discussed on someone’s doorstep? Some residents have reported being delivered contracts that were far different than the ones promised; others that they were told eminent domain (ED) was a foregone conclusion and signing the contract a mere formality. Good luck proving it, though. Unless the homeowner had the presence (and ability) to record the conversation, it would end up as he said/she said in a courtroom.

The land men basically pick off the low hanging fruit. Those reluctant to sign require a little stronger persuasion. In Portage County that has meant the pipeline company making what it has determined is a fair offer to buy the property, backed up by the threat of seizure via ED. These letters have a veneer of legal nicety, but an unmistakable subtext of menace and intimidation lurks behind them as well.

For instance, letters sent to residents say “Ohio law expressly provides us with the right to acquire the necessary easements by eminent domain” (this will be a crucial topic in next week’s post) but that the company “would prefer to obtain them voluntarily and on terms mutually agreeable to all concerned.” The good cop/bad cop routine continues as the company says it

in a good faith effort to reach an agreement, is making its final and best offer to you…as full monetary compensation for the necessary easements…[We are] of the opinion that this offer is in excess of the fair market value for the easements as determined by Ohio law. In order to maintain good relations with landowners, we make this final and best offer in the hopes that the parties may be able to reach an amicable agreement and avoid unnecessary and costly litigation expenses. Please understand, however, that if you force us to commence eminent domain proceedings to acquire the easements, this offer is withdrawn.

Basically, play ball with us or you’ll lose your home.

It should be clear just how much gumption it takes to fight a company on something like this. Most folks will be blindsided by it: There they were living their lives, not knowing they were in the way of pipeline company profits, and one day land men show up. They will generally not be knowledgeable about the laws in question nor will they have access highly specialized legal counsel. Most will be sufficiently risk averse (and sensible) to not want to risk what is likely their biggest single investment on an all-or-nothing showdown with the oil and gas industry. So they sign and get something instead of risking getting nothing.

That’s how these pipelines get created. But even though the playing field is so decidedly tilted in favor of big business, it still hasn’t been entirely cleared. More on that, and how it came up in the commissioners’ meeting, next week.

Commissioners' meeting background: Pipelines, fracking and peering underneath the rock

Last week I posted a statement prepared for our county commissioners regarding a pipeline under construction in Portage County. As I began outlining a report on the meeting I realized a good deal of context was needed for those not in the thick of it. Here is a bit of background.

Pipelines have traditionally been understood as carrying oil, but that has begun to change with fracking. Companies now want to use them to transport various fluids associated with that process, and in places that do not already have lots of pipelines there is a new push to construct them. As the Columbus Dispatch reported last May:

Officials of the oil and gas industry said the pipelines and the plant are safe and vital to their plans to develop Ohio’s Utica shale.

A lack of natural-gas processing, industry officials say, keeps shale wells from delivering to buyers and has slowed the pace of drilling and fracking.

So places that have been targeted for fracking are seeing a new interest in pipelines. The first step in this process is securing the land along the route, and this is also perhaps the shadiest part of the process. Pipeline companies subcontract out through what are called land men. These individuals go door to door attempting to negotiate the necessary legal agreement - and at times that is an exceedingly diplomatic, anodyne and generous way to put it.

Land men are not governed by anything other than their scruples. Theoretically the companies paying them have requirements for conduct, but the arrangement more often seems designed for plausible deniability: Ask a pipeline company about allegations of unethical behavior and they will insist in the strongest terms that their contractors must adhere to the highest ethical standards - and usually that they’ve rarely or never had complaints about their land men.

Which is at least slightly disingenuous. After all, who can say what was discussed on someone’s doorstep? Some residents have reported being delivered contracts that were far different than the ones promised; others that they were told eminent domain (ED) was a foregone conclusion and signing the contract a mere formality. Good luck proving it, though. Unless the homeowner had the presence (and ability) to record the conversation, it would end up as he said/she said in a courtroom.

The land men basically pick off the low hanging fruit. Those reluctant to sign require a little stronger persuasion. In Portage County that has meant the pipeline company making what it has determined is a fair offer to buy the property, backed up by the threat of seizure via ED. These letters have a veneer of legal nicety, but an unmistakable subtext of menace and intimidation lurks behind them as well.

For instance, letters sent to residents say “Ohio law expressly provides us with the right to acquire the necessary easements by eminent domain” (this will be a crucial topic in next week’s post) but that the company “would prefer to obtain them voluntarily and on terms mutually agreeable to all concerned.” The good cop/bad cop routine continues as the company says it

in a good faith effort to reach an agreement, is making its final and best offer to you…as full monetary compensation for the necessary easements…[We are] of the opinion that this offer is in excess of the fair market value for the easements as determined by Ohio law. In order to maintain good relations with landowners, we make this final and best offer in the hopes that the parties may be able to reach an amicable agreement and avoid unnecessary and costly litigation expenses. Please understand, however, that if you force us to commence eminent domain proceedings to acquire the easements, this offer is withdrawn.

Basically, play ball with us or you’ll lose your home.

It should be clear just how much gumption it takes to fight a company on something like this. Most folks will be blindsided by it: There they were living their lives, not knowing they were in the way of pipeline company profits, and one day land men show up. They will generally not be knowledgeable about the laws in question nor will they have access highly specialized legal counsel. Most will be sufficiently risk averse (and sensible) to not want to risk what is likely their biggest single investment on an all-or-nothing showdown with the oil and gas industry. So they sign and get something instead of risking getting nothing.

That’s how these pipelines get created. But even though the playing field is so decidedly tilted in favor of big business, it still hasn’t been entirely cleared. More on that, and how it came up in the commissioners’ meeting, next week.

Statement to county commissioners at pipeline meeting

The following statement was prepared for today’s Portage County Commissioners pipeline meeting. I’ll have a write up of the meeting next week.

Pipelines leak. Last summer’s spill in Arkansas was so severe that houses had to be demolished because of it. Last September there was a six inch pipeline spill of almost a million gallons in North Dakota. These are just two of the most dramatic examples from the last year. A little over a year ago a report commissioned by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) documented hundreds of spills throughout the country.

So the prudent question for any community faced with a new pipeline should not be, will it leak? But rather, what happens once it does leak? The industry’s monitoring schemes are often inadequate. As Reuters reported of the North Dakota spill: “A robot, known as a ‘smart pig,’ detected anomalies during what Tesoro called routine internal inspections of the pipeline September 10 and 11.” Yet no action was taken on that. All the high tech monitoring in the world is useless if the company does not dedicate the resources to act promptly when a red flag is raised.

The industry claims to be vigilant about watching for spills, but the PHMSA reported that for hazardous liquid pipelines “[a]n emergency responder or a member of the public was more likely to identify a release than air patrols, operator ground crew and contractors.” That was the case in North Dakota: It was discovered by a farmer, and not disclosed to the public for eleven days. Will Sunoco depend on the citizens of Portage County to be its eyes and ears as well? If not, then what do we have beyond its earnest assurances?

Transparency and disclosure are important concerns as well. In Arkansas, an oil company consultant was put in charge of a no fly zone over the site of the spill, giving the company the ability to prevent the public from understanding the scope of the disaster. Has Sunoco made any binding commitment to not choke off the flow of information if the oil starts flowing?

Finally, who will be in charge of remediation? As a citizen I would greatly prefer our local public first responders be given the proper training and equipment to do so. Having private, company-funded contractors in charge means trusting that the company adequately funds the operation.

Safety does not have a return on investment, though, and over time it will be tempting - maybe irresistibly so - to skimp on it. Moreover, what transparency will there be for this privatized force? Will its employees be silenced by gag orders and nondisclosure agreements? The normal means of democratic accountability that apply to public servants will not apply to them. Vital safety information could easily be withheld.

Large conglomerates are profit-seeking entities, and they pursue those profits amorally. If they can maximize profit by being good corporate citizens and working in good faith with a community, they will. If they can maximize profit by cutting corners and stonewalling when a PR nightmare erupts, they will. It is no comment on the integrity of their employees to say that these impersonal entities will, if the bottom line so dictates, needlessly visit great hazard on a community and leave that community to fend for itself if something goes wrong.

It is up to us to think in advance what those hazards might be, and to insist that business as usual is not good enough. Pipeline companies have proved to be extraordinarily poor neighbors of late, and we should require a much higher standard of conduct for one that wants to move into our neighborhood.

The curious silence of libertarians on pot legalization

For as long as I can remember the joke about libertarians is that they are Republicans who like to smoke pot. Those who identify as libertarian seem to go to great lengths to point out their ideological differences with Republicans (and conservatives more generally). They stress liberty above all and oppose anything - like, say, non-military government spending - they perceive as even peripherally infringing on it. In addition to heartily approving of the freedom to, say, die without insurance, libertarians have long denounced the drug war as a hateful incursion on peoples’ freedom.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many opportunities to tease out whether libertarians truly are independent gadflies or just slightly heterodox Republicans. To get a solid answer, we would need to see one of their favored policies enacted. Since their ideas (agree with them or not) aren’t really in the political mainstream, their commitment to them never really gets put to the test.

Happily, the decriminalization of marijuana in Colorado provides just one of those rare cases. Libertarians have long criticized the drug war, with leading voices such as Radley Balko and John Stossel weighing in against it, Matt Welch reporting on its hoped-for demise, and so on. (This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive survey. I pick up libertarian names from ambient political noise, so in this post I checked ones I was familiar with.)

The initial days of legalization anywhere in the country would seem to be cause for great celebration: the first crack in the rotten edifice! An opportunity to see one of their principles enacted! Shouldn’t this be a subject of intense interest at the moment? Yet none of the writers mentioned above have weighed in so far. Stossel didn’t even see fit to mention it in his year in freedom post at the end of last month. With the exception of Nick Gillespie, and full credit to him on this, libertarians have been awfully quiet on what should be a momentous achievement.

Libertarian outlets are similarly quiet, or worse. Cato has plenty to say about social spending, unemployment insurance and the Federal Reserve, but nothing on this week’s tremendous advance in liberty. Meanwhile, The American Conservative, which claims to stand “for fiscal responsibility, civil liberties, and a prudent foreign policy,” published a really, um, interesting piece on how smoking pot is fine for trust fund babies but not the rabble. (The comments are worth reading - at least readers take the site’s stated mission seriously.)

As for elected leaders, I’ll just note that one libertarian darling has spent the week engaged in cheap political grandstanding and not celebrating the march of freedom. (It’s not as though Citizen Paul were a sitting United States Senator with the power to impanel hearings and subpoena witnesses, right?)

Funny enough, there is a libertarian case to make against the Colorado law, or at least to temper enthusiasm about it. One of the major selling points of decriminalization is that it amounts to back door sentencing reform. Get rid of pot laws and you eliminate an entire class of nonviolent offenders from prison - along with a less onerous police presence, another libertarian priority. But what if only the most privileged part of that class benefits? As Goldie Taylor put it:

When they tell you this is about lessening the strain of law enforcement, don’t believe them. It’s about advancing - even if unintentionally - institutionalized profiling. It’s a license to descend upon every street corner and alleyway in search of illegal weed peddlers. Aside from tourism and real estate, the prison industrial complex is among the biggest employers in Colorado. That will not change. Those metal prison beds, run by private for-profit companies, must still be sold. And we know who will not be sleeping in them.

Libertarians could easily say: let’s not get carried away, let’s make sure we aren’t being sold a bill of goods, let’s see if this really works out as advertised. It might well fall way short of what was promised. It might have a negligible effect among people of color and the poor, and just give better off white folks an official pass on the risk they had only marginally borne anyway.

We aren’t hearing that; what we are mostly hearing is crickets. If this really meant as much to libertarians as they’ve always claimed, they should be shouting the news from the rooftops - but that would not sit well with the GOP establishment. Or: They can either act as gadflies or as slightly heterodox Republicans. Most are choosing the latter. While that’s a little disappointing I can’t honestly say it’s surprising.

Best Music of 2013

Best Music of 2013

Introduction

If you dig these songs please consider buying them; most can be had for less than a buck. Links will be live for one week. If you hold the copyright on one and would like it removed, please let me know and I’ll comply. You heartless, small-minded, ungenerous b******.

Some lyrics may be NSFW. Listen at your own risk.

Here are my favorite songs this year from my RSS feeds. I use Sharp Reader as my aggregator. See the “Free MP3 sites” part of my blogroll for my current feed list.

Most weeks I burn as many new songs as I can fit onto a rewritable CD and give it a thorough listen (usually five times), so in that spirit I keep this under the same limit. It’s in the top 1% of music I listened to this year, so even if you hate my taste you have to admit that’s a pretty discriminating list. 80 minutes is somewhat arbitrary, but it’s also respectful of listeners to show some restraint. If you fall in love with my taste in music drop me a line and I’ll get you the rest of the songs I considered but didn’t have room for.

On the reckoning of time

I age songs by release date, not recording date. Until I get my grubby little hands on it, it doesn’t exist as far as I’m concerned. When it first makes it out to the public it is new, no matter how long it may have been gathering dust somewhere.

Recommended albums

In addition to the ones mentioned in the list here are the albums in 2013 I enjoyed front to back:

Big K.R.I.T - King Remembered In Time. Has one of the great openings of all time: Wailing guitar, new baby screams, K.R.I.T: “I was born in 1986” etc. For the second straight year Big K.R.I.T released a phenomenal album to relatively little notice. This year’s proof that artistic accomplishment is not enough.

Los News - Automedication. Completely blew me away. One of the top three rock albums of the last five years. And, this is still hard to believe, they are giving it away as a free download. It was released in February of 2012, but I didn’t hear it until this year - they’d have been on the list otherwise. They are supposedly working on a release for next year (RIGHT, GUYS?), and if that happens it will be penciled in as my best album of 2014.

Novella - Murmurs. If Los News gets the sophomore slump, Novella’s debut album might get the nod. So far they’ve had this EP and a smattering of other stuff, but I’m really looking forward to hearing a full length from them.

Honorable Mention

I usually reserve an Honorable Mention spot for a longer song. Most years there’s at least one 7+ minute song that I like quite a bit, but since I try to get lots of different artists on the list I don’t want a single tune to crowd out several other candidates. When a longer song really blows me away (see #2, for example) I’ll make room, but overall I prefer to keep my selections under five minutes or so. Last year I didn’t hear a single longer song that I really loved; this year there was an abundance. Black as the night by Nahko Bear (via) and Pendulum Swing by Blank Realm are great in different ways. But for as much as I liked both, I went with:

22. VietNam - Kitchen Kongas (Buy)
A protest song for the Occupy era. It always bugs me to see complaints about how there used to be so much great protest music and now there isn’t any (e.g.). There’s plenty of it out there. Immigration Game by Michelle Malone (off of Day 2 - recommended), Get Away With It by Animal Kingdom (via) and this one, for starters. You won’t hear them on commercials, TV shows or the radio though. Even if they don’t contain banned words, their message is too provocative for any outlet to implicitly endorse by playing them. So you have to look. Complaining because they don’t get served up in the course of one’s day says more about the listener than the state of contemporary protest music.

The List

(And yes as proof of concept I burned them on to a CD using Winamp.)

21. Bleeding Rainbow - Losing Touch (Buy)
Off of Yeah Right (recommended). Not to hang an anvil of expectations around them, but some of their stuff has kind of an early Smashing Pumpkins feel.

20. Jessica Newry - The Birthday Song (Buy)
A happy song to put a smile on your face.

19. Houndstooth - Canary Island (Buy)
From Ride Out the Dark (recommended). Great melody, and Katie Bernstein’s vocals are like smoked honey.

18. Dyme-A-Duzin - New Brooklyn (Home page)
A new definition of cool. A lot of rappers try to get by on braggadocio; Dyme-A-Duzin uses a more understated approach and it really makes him stand out. Off of A Portrait Of Donnovan (recommended).

17. Audra The Rapper - Hit And Run (Twitter)
Best hook of 2013. Also, does she kiss her mama with that mouth?

16. Speck Mountain - Flares (Buy)
Off of Badwater (recommended), a laid back and groovy album.

15. The Uncluded - Delicate Cycle (Buy)
The Uncluded are Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson. I would like to put Dawson’s vocals in a space capsule and launch them to the far side of the universe, in the hopes that some alien intelligence might eventually find and understand them, and know that humans had at least some redeeming qualities.

14. Caitlin Rose - When I’m Gone (Buy)
Off of The Stand-In (highly recommended). Rose is a tremendously gifted songwriter. She tells good stories to memorable hooks. And she’s really cool too.1

13. Superchunk - Me & You & Jackie Mittoo (Buy)
All hail the sub-two minute blast! Off of I Hate Music, a great rock album.

12. Underhill Rose - Helpless Wanderer (Buy)
Harmony, my friends. Harmony and an unabashedly rustic presentation.

11. Aoife O’Donovan - Glowing Heart (Buy)
Off of Fossils (2013 Album of the Year).

10. (2013 Best Vocal) The Bawdy Electric - Any Closer To The Day (Buy)
OK. The Bawdy Electric is a terrible name for a band. If you go to their Bandcamp page you will see professional wrestlers, a bit of ironic lowbrow cultural appropriation that hasn’t been hip since 1975.2 Basically everything about them says “don’t bother.” But both this and the other side of the single (I’ll Be Your Mountain) are pop rock gems. And Christopher Durning’s voice has something, I don’t know what. Not technically brilliant, but tremendous character.

09. Nickelus F - Shittal B. Swell (Buy)
Nickelus F worked on me the same way Dungen did in 2010. In both cases I liked the artist and kept an eye out for new releases (in this case Handsome and Love Me were the ones I heard first), and in both cases I was very glad I did. Check out his delivery on this line: “You want ‘em to be with someone like you right? Shit.

08. Dorado - Wall Brains (Buy)
Song title obviates any attempt at commentary.

07. Colleen Green - You’re So Cool (Buy)
No Colleen, you’re so cool. The drums at 1:43 are 2013’s Best Second of Music. Off of Sock It To Me (recommended).

06. Stephanie Nicole - Soulutionary One (Buy)
Lie back, close your eyes, and drift away.

05. Rayys - I’m Coming Home (Buy)
Has one of the more evocative opening lyrics I’ve heard: “The apples were picked on an autumn day, to be put into boxes and stored away for the winter.” Rayys have precisely two songs to their credit, and I like the other almost as well. I can’t wait to hear what they do next. (Fittingly, this song was paired with a curiously mesmerizing video.)

04. Grey Reverend - My Hands (Buy)
Simple and gorgeous.

03. Shugo Tokumaru - Katachi (Buy)
A song full of bursts and colors, fireworks and confetti.

02. Hot Chip - Let Me Be Him (Buy)
I got this from Sean at Said the Gramophone, who wrote: “I could dance all night to wistful dance songs.” I can’t improve on that.

01. (Best Song of 2013) JoJo - Billions (Twitter)
A pop song that doesn’t really obey pop convention. It’s about thirty seconds too long, it has an irregular heartbeat, the synth doesn’t start where it should and then cuts in where it shouldn’t. If you can forgive those breaches of etiquette, though, I think you’ll be glad.


NOTES

1. I went to see her in Cleveland and talked to her after the show. (One of the nice things about looking off the beaten path for music is that artists usually play smaller venues and are very accessible.) I asked her about the chorus to When I’m Gone because I couldn’t figure out the words after “Come on, you can sleep when I’m gone/I was lying when I said…” So I sang that bit, she filled it in (“there’d be plenty of time”), then started singing the rest of the chorus. I joined in, and when we finished she said “all right!” and high fived me. So even if you don’t think you’d like The Stand-In, consider buying it to recognize and encourage general awesomeness.
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2. The Dictators Go Girl Crazy is the best rock album title ever. It’s also possibly the best 70s rock album from New York City, which is funny since many lesser albums from that scene (not naming names, sorry) are so much better regarded. As someone who wasn’t there and came to the albums later with just the songs themselves to go on, The Dictators are tops. Also: Master Race Rock has the funniest line in a rock song ever (“we play sports so we don’t get fat”).
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