Sunday, January 30, 2011

S.C.'s cultural DNA keeps us living in the past


By Will Moredock

Through the generations, on the male side of my mother's family, runs a distinctive “widow's peak.”  More pronounced in some than others, this little point of hair over the middle of our foreheads comes down through the years like a trademark –  “Yup. I'm a Fuller.”
DNA is hard to hide and impossible change. People carry it, but so do organizations and institutions; not actual nucleic acid, of course, but habits of thought and behavior dating back to their earliest generations – habits that are as inescapable as eye color or hair patterns.
South Carolina has a dark and twisted legacy, which stalks us from generation to generation. It runs through our veins like an ancient disease and erupts in frightening ways, even into the  the 21st century.
Slavery was a part of the Carolina colony from its first days. The great wealth of antebellum South Carolina was built on the backs of people who were chained, beaten and terrorized. Needless to say, they were not paid or respected.
Slavery is over. The chaining, beating and terror are over. But labor still gets no respect and little pay in this state. It's in our DNA.
Our past returned to haunt us recently when the International Association of Machinists and the AFL-CIO went to federal court seeking an order against Gov. Nikki Haley and her director of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, telling them to remain neutral in matters of union activity. The litigation comes as Boeing Inc. erects a giant assembly plant in North Charleston, slated to begin production next year. The Machinists are the largest union representing Boeing employees at their Washington State plants.
At issue was Haley's remark in December as she nominated union-bashing attorney Catherine Templeton to head the DLLR.  “We're going to fight the unions and I needed a partner to help me do it.” Haley said on that occasion. “She's the right person to help me do it.”
Templeton added: “In my experience I have found there is not one company that operates more efficiently when you put another layer of bureaucracy in. ... We will do everything we can to work with Boeing and make sure that their work force is taken care of, that they run efficiently and that we don't add anything unnecessarily.”
On learning of the lawsuit against her, Haley doubled down. “There's no secret I don't like the unions,” she said. “We are a right-to-work state. I will do everything I can to defend the fact we are a right-to-work state. We are pro-business by nature. I want us to continue to be pro-business. If they don't like what I said, I'm sorry, that's how I feel.”
If Haley was staking out an official position on labor unions in South Carolina, she is breaking the law and will get us sued by the federal government. More likely, she was just playing tough to assure   those corporate sponsors who funded her gubernatorial campaign that they will get their money's worth.  Either way, it's an ugly picture of corporate and political power in this state and how they collude to keep working people under heel.
We got another peek into our past last month as the state Senate  began debate on its first order of business for 2011.
For most of this state's long history, voting was reserved for the privileged few. In 1860, a mere five percent of the state population had the vote. They were white males of property. After the Civil War, byzantine laws and Election Day chicanery – to say nothing of guns and torches – were used to disenfranchise the black majority. Not until passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 were the polls opened to blacks in large numbers.
Now we have Senate Bill 1, which is clearly designed to turn the clock back and turn voters away from the polls on Election Day.  SB 1 would require voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot. There are many thousands of poor and elderly people in this state who have no photo ID and have no ready means of obtaining one. And without one, they might as well stay home on Election Day. Of course, Republicans claim that voter ID will stop people from committing voter fraud. Unfortunately for the GOPers, they cannot produce a single verifiable case in recent decades of someone attempting to cast a vote under false identity. Yet, to prevent this nonexistent crime, they are prepared to disenfranchise up to 100,000 citizens, according to an estimate from the S.C. League of Women Voters.
You don't need a map to know where you are around here. Just look at attitudes toward voting rights and workers' rights.
Yup. It's in our DNA. This is South Carolina.

Govt’s Loan Mod Program Crippled by Lax Oversight and Deference to Banks


by Paul Kiel and Olga Pierce ProPublica, Jan. 27, 2011, 10:42 a.m.

With millions of homeowners still struggling to stay in their homes, the Obama administration’s $75 billion foreclosure prevention program has been weakened, perhaps fatally, by lax oversight and a posture of cooperation—rather than enforcement—with the nation’s biggest banks. Those banks, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, and Citibank, service the majority of mortgages.

Despite a dismal showing for the program, rising complaints from homeowners, and repeated threats from officials, the government has levied no penalties against even the most error-prone banks and mortgage servicers. In fact, despite issuing public warnings for more than a year about imposing penalties, the Treasury Department told ProPublica this week they don’t even have the power to punish servicers for wrongfully denying help to homeowners. Instead of toughening the program, Treasury has actually loosened it in the face of industry lobbying.

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Are you a homeowner who's struggling to pay your mortgage? Are you seeking a loan modification through the government program? We want to hear from you.

Over the past year, ProPublica has been exploring why the government’s program has helped so few homeowners. Over the coming weeks, we will be detailing how the administration quietly retreated from a plan to get tough on banks, why the mortgage servicing industry lacks incentives to invest in helping homeowners, how the industry succeeded in thwarting oversight, and what reforms could lead to more help for homeowners.

The stories are based on newly disclosed data, lobbying disclosures, dozens of interviews with insiders, members of Congress, and others. Today’s story looks at the timidity of Treasury’s oversight, a conclusion echoed in a government report Wednesday.

“At some point, Treasury needs to ask itself what value there is in a program under which not only participation, but also compliance with the rules, is voluntary,” says the new report [1], from the special inspector general for the TARP. “Treasury needs to recognize the failings of [the program] and be willing to risk offending servicers. And if getting tough means risking servicer flight, so be it; the results could hardly be much worse.”

The administration launched the program nearly two years ago, in early 2009, promising it would help three million to four million troubled American borrowers rework the terms of their mortgages. Amid widespread reports that servicers have been wrongly rejecting homeowners, losing paperwork, and otherwise breaking the program’s rules [2], it appears the program will fall far short. The Congressional Oversight Panel now estimates [3] fewer than 800,000 homeowners will ultimately get lasting mortgage modifications.

An early problem for the program was that banks and other mortgage servicing companies were quickly letting homeowners into the program on a trial basis, but failing to make decisions regarding hundreds of thousands of homeowners while multiple government deadlines passed.

To push banks to solve the problem, senior Treasury official Michael Barr, who has since left the department, warned in a November 2009 conference call with journalists that if the banks didn't clear their backlogs, the firms would "suffer consequences." Treasury issued a press release the same day saying banks could face “monetary penalties and sanctions.”

It turns out Treasury had already taken most penalties off the table.

The program rests on contracts [4] that Treasury drafted and banks signed onto. To participate in the program and receive potentially billions in government incentives, banks and mortgage servicers agreed to offer homeowners modifications under guidelines subsequently drawn up by the government. In exchange, they would receive $1,000 for a completed modification and up to $4,000 if the loan continued to perform.

The contracts say Treasury can withhold or claw back incentive payments to servicers when they violate the contract. Members of Congress and homeowner advocates have long pushed Treasury to issue such penalties. There have also been calls within Treasury itself.

Around the same time that Barr and other officials were making public threats, Treasury staffers were looking at reports showing that some banks were modifying virtually no loans. Frustrated, they called at an internal meeting for withholding payments to the worst offenders or imposing fines, according to a person familiar with those discussions. But the staffers were walked back by Treasury lawyers, who said the government was only party to a commercial contract with servicers and not acting as their regulator.

Despite Treasury officials appearing before Congress and elsewhere warning of potential penalties, the department told ProPublica after months of questioning that its hands are tied. Treasury now says it has a very narrow authority to withhold incentives under the contracts. Only in cases where the servicer incorrectly granted a modification and claimed a payment can Treasury withhold or claw back a payment as a punishment.

That interpretation of the contracts means that if a homeowner was wrongfully denied help through the program, there is no possible financial penalty.

“There is no provision in the contract that permits Treasury to assess punitive fines or penalties for a servicer's failure to modify a loan, for an improper modification of a loan, or for failure to adhere to any other program requirements,” said a Treasury spokeswoman.

Experts say Treasury is handcuffing itself. Alan White, a law professor at Valparaiso University, called Treasury’s interpretation of its own contracts “extremely crabbed.” Treasury does have the power to punish servicers for broad violations by withholding incentive payments, he said, and it could also sue servicers for not fulfilling the contract.

Additionally, Treasury has the power to change the contracts, said Julia Gordon from the Center for Responsible Lending. (The Sandler Foundation is a major funder of both the Center and ProPublica, which operate independently of each other.)

The reason Treasury hasn’t changed them, Gordon said, is that Treasury is afraid servicers would drop out of the voluntary program, known as the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), in the face of real penalties.

"If servicers don't get paid for future modification activity, there is a risk that they will be less inclined to continue completing HAMP modifications or to follow HAMP guidelines to evaluate homeowners for all loss mitigation options before referring them to foreclosure," said a Treasury spokeswoman.

Instead of getting tough with servicers, Treasury says they work with banks to make sure problems are fixed.

When government audits of banks' modification practices revealed they were frequently breaking the rules, Treasury officials worked through a process they call "remediation."One audit, conducted on Treasury's behalf by the government-supported mortgage company Freddie Mac, found that 200,000 struggling homeowners had not been told they were eligible for the program, as servicers are required to do. Auditors also found 15 of the largest 20 participating servicers were incorrectly using the Treasury formula that determines if homeowners qualify for the program.Rather than imposing penalties, Treasury simply asked the servicers to contact the homeowners that had been missed and rerun the numbers for those who had been wrongfully denied because of the formula error.

"The servicer says, 'you've caught me this time,' but it doesn't improve widespread non-compliance because there's no real penalty," said Alys Cohen of the National Consumer Law Center.

Dawn Patterson, Treasury's chief of compliance for the program, explained that the idea was to allow servicers time to get "their programs built, their processes more shored up." Patterson says Treasury is continuing to use that approach.

Treasury’s own records call into question the impact of those efforts. Documents obtained by ProPublica via a Freedom of Information Act request show homeowner complaints to a Treasury-sponsored hotline have actually increased during the past year. The most common complaint is that the servicer has violated the program's guidelines.

This data, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, comes from the HOPE Hotline, a help line for homeowners sponsored by the Treasury Department. Complaints are calculated as a percentage of total calls, excluding irrelevant calls like hang-ups and wrong numbers.

Servicers have also at times been uncooperative with the government’s own auditors. Even getting the right documents from servicers has "been a cumbersome process," the head of the government's audit team, Paul Heran, said last year at an industry conference. It seemed, he added, the task was often relegated to low-level staff who didn’t understand the requests. Another manager in the unit, Vic O’Laughlen, said servicers tended to respond with “at best fifty percent of what we’re expecting to see.”

A Treasury spokeswoman said that "servicer operations, especially in larger organizations, are complex," and producing the documents can be difficult.

The government’s oversight has also been hampered by a lack of transparency by Treasury itself. The department has kept its audits of servicers secret. It also does not have a written policy for how it would address rule violations by banks, an omission criticized in a Government Accountability Office report last year and not yet addressed. Treasury says it does have a process for dealing with banks' noncompliance, just not a written one.

The lack of oversight has been particularly damaging, since mortgage servicers have little incentive to do modifications on their own.

Servicers handle homeowner payments for investors who own the loans. Since servicers don’t own the vast majority of the loans they service, they don’t take the loss if a home goes to foreclosure, making them reluctant to make the investments necessary to fulfill their obligations to help homeowners.

"By every metric, the failure of the largest servicers to carry out the program is obvious," said Prof. White. The noncompliance has gone unpunished, he said, because "Treasury staff are preoccupied with friendly relations with the banks. Sometimes it seems the banks own Treasury.”

Meanwhile, the industry has continued to lobby for changes in the program.

Last summer, Treasury significantly weakened a tool that would have helped keep servicers accountable after officials met with industry lobbyists, documents show.When banks entered the program, they agreed to certify annually that they've followed the rules of the program. But lobbyists from the Financial Services Roundtable and the Mortgage Bankers Association suggested adding exemptions [5].

Instead of certifying that banks had followed all the rules, the industry proposed that they could ignore problems affecting less than five percent of homeowners eligible for the program. In the case of Bank of America, which handles more mortgages than any other bank, that meant the bank would not have to report an error that occurred nearly 20,000 times.

The industry also suggested that no matter how widespread a problem, servicers could assert they were complying with the law as long as they pledged to fix problems "to the extent practicable." The previously unreported proposal was disclosed through an administration policy of releasing lobbying contacts related to the TARP.Later that month, the Treasury revised its certification requirements [5], making them similar to those the industry sought. Under the new rules, servicers can define for themselves what violations were significant enough to disclose.The new policy is "not only like putting the fox in charge of the hen house," said Cohen of the National Consumer Law Center, "but asking the fox to fine itself for each chicken eaten."

A Treasury Department spokeswoman said the industry's lobbying did not affect the final guidance, because Treasury was already going to make several of the servicers' suggested changes. It was never the department’s intention that “a servicer submit a list of every individual instance of non-compliance.” If servicers give themselves inappropriate leeway, she said, Treasury would work with them to address the problem.

Unless servicers fear real penalties, the troubled program is unlikely to improve, said Richard Neiman, New York state's chief bank regulator. "There needs to be a greater effort on enforcement, on assigning sanction and fines where there has been noncompliance. We cannot rely solely on servicers to police themselves."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Letters to the reader

Dear Speaker Harrell,
Let’s see if we have this correct:  The South Carolina House of Representative intends to furlough itself for two weeks this legislative session, for a combined savings of $100,000 to the taxpayers of South Carolina.
This same body of elected ignoramuses tells us that, because it utterly refuses to raise revenue, the state must cut $829 million from its budget.
Do you know what one percent of $829 million is?  Answer:  $8.29 million.
How about one-tenth of one percent of $829 million?  Answer:  $829,000
One-hundredth of one percent of $829 million?  Answer:  $82,900.
In essence, what you’re telling citizens of the Palmetto State is that instead of your political madhouse putting its minds together and spending every waking moment this session trying to eke out a solution to saving vital services and jobs for South Carolinians—as this is the only legal body other than the State Senate which can bring about such change—you would rather patch one-hundredth of one percent of the total state budget crisis?
That’s what we call pissing in the ocean, and on the heads of your constituents.  But if the citizens of this state are stupid enough to buy your horseshit, then they deserve you 100%.
Columbia City Paper

Dear Dear General Assembly,
Instead of shutting down ETV, ETV Radio & NPR, and the S.C. Arts Commission, we have an alternate way to cuts millions from the state budget: donate your salaries and per diems –you’re all rich people anyway—in the name of public service. Think of the message that would send to the rest of the nation! After all, you’re holding office due to your unwavering commitment to public service and not because it’s a business connection or glorified fraternity for Palmetto State blue bloods. Right? Wink, wink.
Instead of Haley paying members of her staff six figures a pop, maybe notch that down to the $40,000 range. In fact, set that as a flat rate for all your staffs, both in the House and Senate and the various boards and committees. What do you call it on the stump? “Tightening our belts?” At least 54 employees of the Budget and Control board –not surprisingly—make over $90,000 per year. Cut them down to 40k and you’d save us $2.6 million right there. Oh and either get on private health insurance policies or go without health insurance all together, like the rest of us. All told you could save our state, what, tens of millions a year? Plus, you would go down as one of the most saintly legislative bodies in the history of our country. I think we can do this!
...Hey? Where’d you all go?
Columbia City Paper


Dear “May 21, 2011 - Judgment Day” Christians,
So, that gives us, what, a little under four months? And how do you spend it? By blowing your load on car signage and pamphlets? If you really believe the end is coming you should quit your job, max out your credit cards, and spend at least three of those months with a grab bag of hot bi-sexual escorts, geeked out on horse stimulant and Ecstasy. That still gives you a full month to ask forgiveness before the big day (and is well before the collection agencies some calling on that credit card bill). Heck, if the drugs and women happen to last, you can ratchet the forgiveness campaign down to May 15, easy. And if Jesus doesn’t show, well, you stepped out of your bizarre fantasy world and actually lived.
Of course, if you really wanted to stand behind the Armageddon predictions you people tend to make every decade or so, you’d put your Kool Aid where your mouth is this time and announce a peaceful, good old fashioned suicide pact. Maybe argue, as we do, that it’s not suicide if the Bible foretold it –after all, you’re just fulfilling prophecy and using your hand as God’s own instrument. The Heavens Gate cult at least strapped on those Nikes and stuck to their guns. You 2011 assholes can’t just go on national news claiming that the universe will be torn asunder before next football season and then shrug when nothing happens. If you’ve got the balls to ride around town with that type of signage on your mini van, you’ve got the balls to take a few dozen sleeping pills.
Columbia City Paper

Dear Mayor Benjamin,
We appreciate and support your desire to revamp our bus system. We truly do. It’s a vital service. But, have you ever spent an hour at the main terminal on Sumter and Laurel? The hardworking folks waiting on the bus are under siege from a bio-diverse cross section of bums of every possible description or quirk –and that’s before the local jail vans arrive to dump out the day’s convicts. It’s like The Walking Dead down there. Equipping the busses with Wi-Fi is great. (Truly.) But if you can’t do something about the wino taking a dump in the aisle, the public transit stigma in Columbia is stuck in Park.

Columbia City Paper
Dear stray cat,
Sure, my girlfriend fed you once, but that doesn’t give you license to spray in my recycling bin and disembowel birds on my lawn, man! You’ve got to earn my tolerance for behavior like that. So, either man up and suffer my clumsy attempt to pet you or shove off for the dumpster down the street.
Columbia City Paper

Letters to the reader

Dear Speaker Harrell,
Let’s see if we have this correct:  The South Carolina House of Representative intends to furlough itself for two weeks this legislative session, for a combined savings of $100,000 to the taxpayers of South Carolina.
This same body of elected ignoramuses tells us that, because it utterly refuses to raise revenue, the state must cut $829 million from its budget.
Do you know what one percent of $829 million is?  Answer:  $8.29 million.
How about one-tenth of one percent of $829 million?  Answer:  $829,000
One-hundredth of one percent of $829 million?  Answer:  $82,900.
In essence, what you’re telling citizens of the Palmetto State is that instead of your political madhouse putting its minds together and spending every waking moment this session trying to eke out a solution to saving vital services and jobs for South Carolinians—as this is the only legal body other than the State Senate which can bring about such change—you would rather patch one-hundredth of one percent of the total state budget crisis?
That’s what we call pissing in the ocean, and on the heads of your constituents.  But if the citizens of this state are stupid enough to buy your horseshit, then they deserve you 100%.
Columbia City Paper

Dear Dear General Assembly,
Instead of shutting down ETV, ETV Radio & NPR, and the S.C. Arts Commission, we have an alternate way to cuts millions from the state budget: donate your salaries and per diems –you’re all rich people anyway—in the name of public service. Think of the message that would send to the rest of the nation! After all, you’re holding office due to your unwavering commitment to public service and not because it’s a business connection or glorified fraternity for Palmetto State blue bloods. Right? Wink, wink.
Instead of Haley paying members of her staff six figures a pop, maybe notch that down to the $40,000 range. In fact, set that as a flat rate for all your staffs, both in the House and Senate and the various boards and committees. What do you call it on the stump? “Tightening our belts?” At least 54 employees of the Budget and Control board –not surprisingly—make over $90,000 per year. Cut them down to 40k and you’d save us $2.6 million right there. Oh and either get on private health insurance policies or go without health insurance all together, like the rest of us. All told you could save our state, what, tens of millions a year? Plus, you would go down as one of the most saintly legislative bodies in the history of our country. I think we can do this!
...Hey? Where’d you all go?
Columbia City Paper


Dear “May 21, 2011 - Judgment Day” Christians,
So, that gives us, what, a little under four months? And how do you spend it? By blowing your load on car signage and pamphlets? If you really believe the end is coming you should quit your job, max out your credit cards, and spend at least three of those months with a grab bag of hot bi-sexual escorts, geeked out on horse stimulant and Ecstasy. That still gives you a full month to ask forgiveness before the big day (and is well before the collection agencies some calling on that credit card bill). Heck, if the drugs and women happen to last, you can ratchet the forgiveness campaign down to May 15, easy. And if Jesus doesn’t show, well, you stepped out of your bizarre fantasy world and actually lived.
Of course, if you really wanted to stand behind the Armageddon predictions you people tend to make every decade or so, you’d put your Kool Aid where your mouth is this time and announce a peaceful, good old fashioned suicide pact. Maybe argue, as we do, that it’s not suicide if the Bible foretold it –after all, you’re just fulfilling prophecy and using your hand as God’s own instrument. The Heavens Gate cult at least strapped on those Nikes and stuck to their guns. You 2011 assholes can’t just go on national news claiming that the universe will be torn asunder before next football season and then shrug when nothing happens. If you’ve got the balls to ride around town with that type of signage on your mini van, you’ve got the balls to take a few dozen sleeping pills.
Columbia City Paper

Dear Mayor Benjamin,
We appreciate and support your desire to revamp our bus system. We truly do. It’s a vital service. But, have you ever spent an hour at the main terminal on Sumter and Laurel? The hardworking folks waiting on the bus are under siege from a bio-diverse cross section of bums of every possible description or quirk –and that’s before the local jail vans arrive to dump out the day’s convicts. It’s like The Walking Dead down there. Equipping the busses with Wi-Fi is great. (Truly.) But if you can’t do something about the wino taking a dump in the aisle, the public transit stigma in Columbia is stuck in Park.

Columbia City Paper
Dear stray cat,
Sure, my girlfriend fed you once, but that doesn’t give you license to spray in my recycling bin and disembowel birds on my lawn, man! You’ve got to earn my tolerance for behavior like that. So, either man up and suffer my clumsy attempt to pet you or shove off for the dumpster down the street.
Columbia City Paper

Annual Winter Exhibit

Yaghjian, Williams, Wimberly and Chesley Together Again

By Judit Trunkos
Vista Studios/Galery 80808 proudly hosts The Annual Winter Exhibit of four old friends and artist. David Yaghjian, Mike Williams, Edward Wimberly and Stephen Chesley’s yearly show is a refreshing and energizing exhibit of their new works. Columbia’s art-lovers have been visiting this show for eleven years and get a chance to peak into the unlimited source of creativity and new ideas of the professional artists.
David Yaghjian’s fans already know the half naked middle age figure that appears on his canvases in the most unexpected situations, such as sitting in the middle of the forest, passing time in the backyard or balancing in a circus. This year, Yaghjian decided to make his signature figure three dimensional and created cardboard cut-outs as well as wood cut-outs of the character.   When asked about the development of the figure Yaghjian explained that things do not have to always progress forward it can also happen sideways. Stability is just as good, so instead of changing the person there’s a new three dimensional appearance of the figure.
“This year I created some three dimensional cardboard figures. I wanted to work with cardboard to do something different, so my figure moved from the canvas to the three dimensional world. By drawing the shapes on the cardboard or wood and then cut it with a knife or with saber saw feels like I get to draw it twice. It is a lot of fun working with three dimensional figures. I look at him differently; I try to figure out how to make him stand up, make him taller, etc.”  explained Yaghjian.
The wood cut-out titled “Weight Lifter” represents Yaghjian’s playful search for new materials and three dimensional works well.  The middle-aged man is in the process of lifting a barbell with heavy weights on it above his head. The dynamic position and the figure’s effort to push the weight higher result in him bending the barbell.  Yaghjian created a piece that seems to be moving in front of our eyes.
Mike Williams has also produced a lot of new pieces in the last year and is proud to present them at the group exhibition. Moving into a new work space allowed him to create larger pieces. The content of his canvases is still focusing on fish, wetlands, nature and yet new colors are emerging keeping his style fresh. Last’ year’s diagonal lines and grids seem to be disappearing as a more spontaneous design appears. Williams does not plan out his works merely follows his intuition to create.  In his large oil on canvas piece “This Way and That” Williams allows spontaneity to take over and reacts or compliments to the existing colors and shapes. Often the figure of the fish seems to be withering away and the colors of blue and green suggest the environment of the sea or wetland.
“ Last year I had more grids and geography, this year I am deconstructing them. My work is less organized more free form.” Explains Williams.
Edward Wimberly, who last year enchanted the art lovers with Raggedy Ann, this year decided to go to a different direction inspired by the Post-Impressionist master Cezanne. In the past Wimberly painted his imagination without copying anything, this years exhibition  features still lifes. Reading an article about Cezanne’s still lifes, Wimberly decided to try the French master’s designs.
“I decided to put a table cloth under the fruits, just like Cezanne does. Tried it and it was fun. My work is still realistic but you can discover a hint of Cezanne.” says Wimberly.
Stephen Chesley’s new works are partly inspired by disappearing nature of solitude and by the American realist painter Edward Hopper. In his paintings and charcoal pieces Chesley highlights important factors of Columbians and Americans’ life that seems to be slowly and invisibly disappearing. “Freight Train” is a group of charcoal drawings which depict the black train coming through the city as part of the identity of Columbia. It has been there for a long time and we Columbians do not even pay attention to it anymore, however, one day we will not have the strength and speed of freight trains with us anymore.
Edward Hopper’s influence on Chesley’s works is noteworthy as well.  As Chesley explained it, Hopperian style is part of the emotional content of his pieces, namely the strong American presence together with strong feelings of emptiness and the disappearing of solitude.
“Since I was born the population almost tripled, solitude is disappearing. In five hundred years we can show our grand-grand-grand children what solitude was, what it was like to walk on the clean beach without other humans around us. “Says Chesley.
The group exhibition at Studio 80808 will be open until January 25, 2011.

The ‘dynamic duo’

Greetings!!!  2011 is underway and the time keeps rolling.  2011 has seen many good days, but a couple of bad ones in regards to politics (Congresswoman Gifford).  I really hope those out there with a heart are doing more than just watching the news.  Please take the time to educate yourself and others instead of following the crowd with sporadic judgment.  Being that this is the 1st quarter of music releases, labels are working gearing up for February & March dates, I figured I’d give you a jewel from 2010 that more people need to be aware of; this has literally been in my rotation for weeks.  Let’s get it!!!

REVIEW
The ‘dynamic duo’ has continuously been strongly portrayed and promoted within popular American culture.  Two allies working together to solve a crime or rectify a problem has been a great creative outlet in entertainment for years.  Think about the following: Babe & Mickey, Batman & Robin, Magic & Kareem, Bird & Kevin, Michael & Scottie, the Lone Ranger & Tonto, Sam & Dave, Sidney & Bill, Richard & Gene, and even Amos & Andy.  Music is no different.  From Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin, Bob Marley & Peter Tosh, David Lee Roth & Eddie Van Halen, to EPMD (Erick Sermon & Parrish Smith), Gangstarr (DJ Premier & Guru), and even Pete Rock & CL Smooth; the ‘dynamic duo’ concept has produced some of the greatest art available.

Statik Selektah & Termanology are no different.  Using the concept of the ‘dynamic duo’ as inspiration in the creation of the disc, 1982 (ST/Showoff/Brick), these Massachusetts artists do not disappoint.  Hip Hop is the literal melting pot with regards to entertainment & race.  People are judged on their skills (can you or can’t you do what you said with great ability) meaning that Termanology (Latin) and Statik Selektah (Italian) are held to the same standards as a Black duo out of Southside Chicago; can they ‘rock’?  To answer that question….YES!!!!  1982 is a very entertaining and complete record.  Statik Selektah provides a sound bed that allows Termanology extreme space to rhyme in an array of styles.
From allegorical, symbolically, double-time, and even in reverse; Termanology simply gets busy on this record.  “The World Renown” is the perfect example of their chemistry and why this is such a great listen.  The guests included on 1982 all provide great assistance (Cassidy, Xzibit, Bun B, Styles P, Saigon, Freeway, Inspectah Deck, Reks, and the incomparable M.O.P.) and shine in their own right, but 1982 is an album directed by Statik Selektah’s musical vision and Termanology’s lyrical precision.  Please support great music (you can download it or purchase a hard copy for less than $10); you’d be crazy not to have this in your collection.

WORDS OF WISDOM
Rest in peace to Teena Marie; one of the greatest singers and performers of all time.    From ‘Square Biz’ and ‘Fire & Desire’ to ‘Portuguese Love’ and ‘I’m a sucker for your love’, Teena had one of the strongest and most distinctive voices ever.  The term ‘blue-eyed soul’ came about because of her ability.  May her, her spirit, her family, and her legacy forever remain blessed.  Any band or artist looking for more exposure be sure to contact me.  Stay Up!!!!

DJ Kingpin-Villain Of Vinyl        kingpinvillianofvinyl@gmail.com

Live music times for 1-27 to 2-10

Thursday January 27
The White Mule
Woody Pines w/ tba

Friday, January 28, 2011
New Brookland Tavern
8pm $5/$8
The Private Life Of David Reed
Pinna
Alien Carnival

The White Mule
Jolie Holland

Saturday, January 29
5pm $5/$8
New Brookland Tavern
We Sail At Dawn
Chivalry
Currents
From Tomorrow
Saying Goodbye To Scarlett
9pm   Foley
All-New Badges
Venice Is Sinking
High Roses Grow

Sunday January 30
New Brookland Tavern
7:30 $8/$10
The Memorials
Just Like Vinyl
Thank God!
The Golden Pyramids

Monday January 31

New Brookland Tavern

Acoustic Competition

Tuesday February 1

New Brookland Tavern Damon Moon and the Whispering Drifters
Forces Of A Street
Cassangles

Thursday February 3
New Brookland Tavern
Full Color Footage
Senseless Beatings
Andy Lehman & the Night Moves
Brandon Kirkley & The Firecrackers

Friday February 4
New Brookland Tavern
6pm Hellogoodbye
Gold Motel
You Me and Everyone We Know
Now, Now Every Children
10:30pm
Jubee and The Morning After’s
Mel Washington (of All Get Out)

The White Mule
California Guitar Trio

Saturday February 5

New Brookland Tavern
Scene SC Sampler Release w/:
Josh Roberts & the Hinges
Sequoyah
Wylie
Elonzo

The White Mule
The Blue Dogs

Sunday February 6

New Brookland Tavern
SUPER BOWL XLV: Pittsburgh vs Green Bay
$15 Bottomless Beer Cups / Pot Luck

Monday February 7
New Brookland Tavern Acoustic Competition

Wednesday February 9
New Brookland Tavern
Baths
Braids
Star Slinger

The White Mule
Dan Bern

Sunday February 20
New Brookland Tavern Emarosa
Chiodos
Go Radio
Decoder

Tuesday February 22
New Brookland Tavern
Miniature Tigers
All Get Out
Wylie

Movie times for this weekend



STRANGE POWERS: STEPHIN MERRITT AND THE MAGNETIC FIELDS
JANUARY 28, Friday
One screening only at The Nick @10:00pm

A decade in the making, this documentary by filmmakers Kerthy Fix and Gail O'Hara examines the career of prolific singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt, the enigmatic, deep-voiced heart and soul of indie pop band the Magnetic Fields. Featuring insights on Merritt's talent from an array of admirers -- including Neil Gaiman, Sarah Silverman and Peter Gabriel -- the film also focuses on Merritt's longtime friendship with bandmate and manager Claudia Gonson.


Movie times listed are for the weekend of  January 28. Please confirm times with theater.

Regal Columbia Cinema 7
3400 Forest Drive Suite 3000, Columbia, SC 29204

No Strings Attached new! (R)
2:30 5:10 7:50 10:30

Gulliver’s Travels 3D (PG, No Passes)
2:20 5:00 7:20 9:40

Country Strong (PG-13) 2:10 4:50 7:35 10:20

The Fighter (R)
2:15 4:55 7:40 10:25

Tron: Legacy 3D (PG, No Passes)

2:00 4:45 7:30 10:15
The Tourist (PG-13)

2:25 5:05 7:45 10:10
Inside Job (PG-13)
2:05 4:40 7:15 9:50

Carmike Wynnsong 10
5320 Forest Drive, Columbia, SC 29206
The Mechanic new! (R)
1:45 4:30 7:20 9:50

The Rite new! (PG-13)
1:20 4:10 7:05 9:45

The Dilemma (PG-13)
1:30 4:15 7:00 9:40

The Green Hornet 3D (PG-13)
1:35 4:20 7:15 10:00

The Green Hornet (PG-13)
1:25 4:10 7:05 9:50

The Heart Specialist (R)
6:55 9:30

True Grit (PG-13)
1:35 4:10 6:40 9:15

Yogi Bear (PG)
1:25 3:55

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (PG)
1:30 4:15 7:00 9:45
Black Swan (R)

1:40 4:15 6:55 9:40
Tangled 3D (PG)
1:35 4:05 6:35 9:05

AMC Dutch Square 14
800 Bush River Rd.,
Columbia, SC 29210

The Mechanic new! (R)
1:30 4:15 7:40 10:00

The Rite new! (PG-13)
2:15 4:45 7:15 9:45

No Strings Attached new! (R)
1:45 4:30 7:45 10:25
1:15 4:00 7:10 9:35

The Way Back new! (PG-13)
3:55 7:20 10:15

The Dilemma (PG-13)
2:30 5:10 7:50 10:20

The Green Hornet 3D (PG-13)
1:00 1:40 4:10 4:40 7:00 7:30 9:40 10:10
True Grit (PG-13)
2:20 5:00 7:35 10:05

Yogi Bear 3D (PG)
1:50 3:50 6:45 9:20

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 3D (PG)  1:10 4:05 6:50 9:25

Black Swan (R)
2:00 4:50 7:25 9:55

The King’s Speech (R)
1:20 4:20 7:05 9:50

Tangled 3D (PG)
2:10 4:35 6:55 9:15

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (PG-13)
12:55pm

Regal Columbiana Grande Stadium 14
1250 Bower Pkwy, Columbia, SC 29212
not avialable at time of press

Carmike 14
122 Afton Court, Columbia, SC 29212

Season of the Witch (PG-13)
1:30 4:15 7:00 9:25

Blue Valentine (R)
1:20 4:10 7:00 9:50

Gulliver’s Travels (2010) (PG)
2:15 4:35 7:15 9:35

Gulliver’s Travels 3D (PG)1:45 4:10 6:30 9:00

Country Strong (PG-13)
1:00 4:00 6:55 9:45

Little Fockers (PG-13)
2:10 4:40 7:15 9:40

The Fighter (R)
1:25 4:25 7:10 9:55

Tron: Legacy (PG)
1:15 4:05 6:55 9:45

Tron: Legacy 3D (PG)
1:00 3:50 6:40 9:30

The Tourist (PG-13)
2:00 4:30 7:05 9:35

Burlesque (PG-13)
1:05 6:30

127  Hours (R)
2:20 5:00 7:30 10:00

Due Date (R)
1:50 4:20 6:45 9:20

Inside Job (PG-13)
4:00 9:10

Get Low (PG-13)
1:40 4:20 6:45 9:15

Regal Sandhill Stadium 16 450 Town Center Place
The Mechanic new! (R)
12:15 2:25 4:45 7:15 9:40
12:45 2:55 5:15 7:45 10:10

The Rite new! (PG-13)
12:00 2:30 5:00 7:30 10:00

No Strings Attached new! (R)
12:10 2:40 5:10 7:40 10:10

The Dilemma (PG-13)
2:50 5:15 7:55 10:30
12:20pm

The Green Hornet 3D (PG-13, No Passes)
12:00 1:45 2:40 4:40 5:20 7:30 8:00 10:15 10:45

The Green Hornet (PG-13)
1:00 4:00 7:00 9:45

Season of the Witch (PG-13)
12:25 5:20 10:20

Little Fockers (PG-13)
12:10 2:30 4:55 7:25 9:50

True Grit (PG-13)
12:05 2:35 5:10 7:50 10:25

The Fighter (R)
2:45 7:35

Tron: Legacy 3D (PG, No Passes)
1:15 4:10 7:05 9:55

Yogi Bear 3D (PG, No Passes)
12:20 2:20 4:30 7:00 9:30

Black Swan (R)
12:05 2:35 5:05 7:40 10:15

The King’s Speech (R)
1:30 4:20 7:10 10:05
127 Hours (R)
12:30 2:45 5:00 7:20 9:35

Nickelodeon
http://www.nickelodeon.org/   937 Main Street

STRANGE POWERS: STEPHIN MERRITT AND THE MAGNETIC FIELDS
JANUARY 28, Friday
One screening only at 10:00

TINY FURNITURE
JANUARY 28-FEBRUARY 3, Friday-Thursday
Friday, Jan. 28 - 3:00, 6:00 and 8:00
Saturday, Jan. 29 - 3:00, 6:00 and 8:00
Sunday, Jan. 30 - 3:00, 6:00 and 8:00
Monday, Jan. 31 - 6:00 and 8:00
Tuesday, Feb. 1 - 6:00 and 8:00
Wednesday, Feb. 2 - 3:00, 6:00 and 8:00
Thursday, Feb. 3 - 8:00 only

St. Andrews Cinema 5 527 St Andrews Road Columbia, SC 29210 (803) 772-7469
Please call

Regal Pastime Pavilion 8 929 North Lake Drive, Lexington, SC 29072

Gulliver's Travels Review



Gulliver’s Travels is a new cover on a classically old story with recognizable faces playing characters book fans have only been imagining in their minds for years.  Jack Black plays the famous Lemule Gulliver the main character in the story known for School of Rock (2003), and Kung Fu Panda (2008).  He is accompanied by Jason Segal playing Horatio a new friend he meets on the island of Lilliput, famous for his roles in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) and How I met Your Mother (2005).  The movie is a new take on a classic book and exceeds its counterpart in humor and energy to which anyone will enjoy.

Gulliver is a mail room clerk in New York.  Troubled that he is stuck in his career and life he tries to show off to his long time crush Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet).  When she sends him to the Bermuda triangle to write a puff piece for his first assignment he is transported to another world.  He awakes to find himself surrounded in a land of strange little people still in a time in history.  Gulliver thought to be an enemy is captured and imprisoned where he meets Horatio, imprisoned for unlawful courting of the Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) his long time crush.  They become quick friends.  After foiling an attempt to kidnap the princess, Gulliver becomes friend to the people of Lilliput, excluding General Edward (Chris O’Dowd).  Before long Gulliver is the new General and has even stopped an attack after helping Horatio successfully court Princess Mary.  General Edward discouraged on both fronts turns sides and joins forces with the enemies of Lilliput.  When he defeats Gulliver and exhiles him on the forbidden island Horatio comes to tell him that Darcy Silverman is in General Edwards capture he must muster his courage, stop feeling sorry for himself and be the man he wants and should be.

This is Yet another film using the new popular 3D technology.  I myself am a fan and opted for it.  I found myself a little disappointed when the only real moments i found myself enjoying the 3D environment was during the short “coming right at me” sequences.  That being said the technology of having an entire civilization just an inch tall compared to Jack Black was extraordinary.  Very little did I find myself saying the lighting was off and i could tell the character was not really there, such as the scene when Horatio comes to Gulliver’s aid on the forbidden island.   The rest of the graphics were quite well done, the lighting and textures done beautifully as well.

The comedy i found quite amusing.  Appropriate for all ages and not once was I offended.   There was no vulgar humor and very little was if at all crude.  The one particular line that had me cracking up was when Horatio and Gulliver were testing lines and Horatio suggested “I’ll call you potomous, cuz you’ve got no hips.”  Jack Black was certainly funny in this film, one of his better ones in my opinions.  But i found that Jason Segal was stealing the show.  Almost every time he opened his mouth i couldn’t help but laugh, mostly by his attempts at trying to court the Princess Mary.

Again this was a film that was only an hour and twenty minuets long. Something I cant stand is paying to see something and only getting what seems like an episode of a show.  But again thinking of their target audience of children and young adults it is better to let them enjoy it and keep their attention then let their mind wander and get bored.  The humor was appropriate for any ages and nothing offensive which is a must again for their target audience.  I enjoyed the film but I think the story was lacking quite a bit, it seemed rushed and fragile.  My suggestion is take the kids to see it, they will certainly enjoy it.  If your a Jack Black fan or want to have a little adventure wait to rent it and watch at home or see it in 2D on the big screen if you really want to, 3D is just not worth it.

Written by Nathan Couture

http://www.moviefilmreview.com/author/Theophylaktos

Back on the Job



Our Legislature resumes its misrule of S.C.

By Will Moredock

It's not easy to know whether our state Legislature is just plain stupid, or if there's something deeper – a genuine, intrinsic malevolence.

With regard to our current budget crisis, it's easy to believe we are looking at stupidity. Four years ago the Republican General Assembly gave huge property tax rollbacks to some of the wealthiest residents – and biggest campaign donors – in the state. They sought to make up the difference with a hike in the sales tax. They did this even as economic advisers and tax experts warned that this was folly, that when the economy slowed down, sales tax revenues would tank.

That's exactly what has happened as South Carolina wallows in the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Today the state faces an $829 million budget shortfall – and this after the budget already has been slashed $2 billion over the last two years. There is pain throughout the land as agencies reduce services, close offices, furlough workers, cut Medicaid, and even contemplate trimming ten days off the school year.

One suspects that this is gross stupidity. After all, the anger and anguish of this poor state is aimed directly at the Legislature. Our solons look helpless and stupid and we know that was never their intention, for they are nothing if not vain. They played with fire and they got burned – along with the rest of us.

Yes, we can mark that one up to stupidity. But the economy is not the only crisis in our state. We have a crisis of democracy, as exemplified by our broken election system. We saw this all too vividly in the Democratic primary last June – the primary in which an unemployed man who had never sought public office, who did not have a campaign staff, or an office, or even a computer, defeated a seasoned and well-funded political figure who had been campaigning around the state for months.

There has never been a credible explanation for Alvin Greene's 20-percentage-point victory over Vic Rawl. Cynicism about the Democratic primary was inevitable in light of several well publicized technical and human failures since the iVotronic machines were purchased in 2004 to serve all 46 counties. Most recently there were at least two major SNAFUs in the 2010 general election.

In November, Colleton County reported 13,045 votes for statewide offices, though only 11,656

ballots were cast. The problem stemmed from voting machines counting 1,389 votes twice, an acknowledged problem with these machines.

In Lancaster County last fall, a Freedom of Information request revealed that usual digital files resulting from an

election did not in fact exist. Totaling the votes was done manually. There was a discrepancy

between the database at county

headquarters and the databases in the

individual machines, making the

automatic aggregation of votes from

individual machines impossible.

These are just a couple of the problems with the iVotronic machines in recent years. In other cases, miscalibrated machines resulted in names lighting up on the touch screen which the voter had not selected.  Dr. Duncan Buell, chairman of the University of South Carolina Department of Computer Science & Engineering, has warned that the state's voting machines can be hacked.

There is one solution that would solve almost all the voting machine problems and go a long way toward restoring public faith in the electoral process: have the machines issue a printed record to each voter of the ballot he just cast.

"We have no ability in South Carolina to count anything except what gets stored in the memory chips of the voting machines,” Buell told a Spartanburn TV station. “There is no paper record.”

It just happens that there are several pieces of legislation dealing with election law which have been prefiled as the General Assembly returns to begin its 2011-2012 session. Unfortunately, giving our voting machines a paper record is not one of them.

No, our GOP Legislature is intent on passing laws to reduce opportunities for early voting and absentee voting and forcing voters to produce a photo ID to cast a ballot, even when they have a voter registration card. Research shows that all of these measures have the effect of restricting the vote, and those most often disenfranchised are the poor and the elderly. Why do the GOPers want to push through these changes in the state's election law? They say it is to prevent voter fraud, yet there have been fewer than a dozen cases of voter fraud recorded in the state in decades.

With all the election problems we face it this state, the GOPers are intent on solving a problem that does not exist, even as they disenfranchise thousands of voters in the state. That, my friends, is not stupidity. That is malevolence.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated

by Abrahm Lustgarten ProPublica,
The United States is poised to bet its energy future on natural gas as a clean, plentiful fuel that can supplant coal and oil. But new research by the Environmental Protection Agency—and a growing understanding of the pollution associated with the full “life cycle” of gas production—is casting doubt on the assumption that gas offers a quick and easy solution to climate change.

Advocates for natural gas routinely assert that it produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal and is a significant step toward a greener energy future. But those assumptions are based on emissions from the tailpipe or smokestack and don’t account for the methane and other pollution emitted when gas is extracted and piped to power plants and other customers.

The EPA’s new analysis doubles its previous estimates for the amount of methane gas that leaks from loose pipe fittings and is vented from gas wells, drastically changing the picture of the nation’s emissions that the agency painted as recently as April. Calculations for some gas-field emissions jumped by several hundred percent. Methane levels from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas were 9,000 times higher than previously reported.

When all these emissions are counted, gas may be as little as 25 percent cleaner than coal, or perhaps even less.

Even accounting for the new analysis, natural gas—which also emits less toxic and particulate pollution—offers a significant environmental advantage. But the narrower the margins get, the weaker the political arguments become and the more power utilities flinch at investing billions to switch to a fuel that may someday lose the government’s long-term support.

Understanding exactly how much greenhouse gas pollution comes from drilling is especially important, because the Obama administration has signaled that gas production may be an island of common political ground in its never-ending march toward an energy bill. The administration and Congress are seeking not just a steady, independent supply of energy, but a fast and drastic reduction in the greenhouse gases associated with climate change.

Billions of cubic feet of climate-changing greenhouse gases—roughly the equivalent of the annual emissions from 35 million automobiles—seep from loose pipe valves or are vented intentionally from gas production facilities into the atmosphere each year, according to the EPA. Gas drilling emissions alone account for at least one-fifth of human-caused methane in the world’s atmosphere, the World Bank estimates, and as more natural gas is drilled, the EPA expects these emissions to increase dramatically.

When scientists evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions of energy sources over their full lifecycle and incorporate the methane emitted during production, the advantage of natural gas holds true only when it is burned in more modern and efficient plants.

But roughly half of the 1,600 gas-fired power plants in the United States operate at the lowest end of the efficiency spectrum. And even before the EPA sharply revised its data, these plants were only 32 percent cleaner than coal, according to a lifecycle analysis by Paulina Jaramillo, an energy expert and associate professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

Now that the EPA has doubled its emissions estimates, the advantages are slimmer still. Based on the new numbers, the median gas-powered plant in the United States is just 40 percent cleaner than coal, according to calculations ProPublica made based on Jaramillo’s formulas. Those 800 inefficient plants offer only a 25 percent improvement.

Other scientists say the pollution gap between gas and coal could shrink even more. That’s in part because the primary pollutant from natural gas, methane, is far more potent than other greenhouse gases, and scientists are still trying to understand its effect on the climate—and because it continues to be difficult to measure exactly how much methane is being emitted.

In November the EPA announced new greenhouse gas reporting rules for the oil and gas industry. For the first time under the Clean Air Act, the nation’s guiding air quality law, thousands of small facilities will have to be counted in the pollution reporting inventory, a change that might also lead to higher measurements.

The natural gas industry, in the meantime, has pressed hard for subsidies and guarantees that would establish gas as an indispensible source of American energy and create a market for the vast new gas reserves discovered in recent years. The industry would like to see new power plants built to run on gas, automobile infrastructure developed to support gas vehicles and a slew of other ambitious plans that would commit the United States to a reliance on gas for decades to come.

But if it turns out that natural gas offers a more modest improvement over coal and oil, as the new EPA data begin to suggest, then billions of dollars of taxpayer and industry investment in new infrastructure, drilling and planning could be spent for limited gain.

“The problem is you build a gas plant for 40 years. That's a long bridge,” said James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, one of the nation’s largest power companies. Duke generates more than half of its electricity from coal, but Rogers has also been a vocal proponent of cap-and-trade legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Rogers worries that a blind jump to gas could leave the country dependent on yet another fossil resource, without stemming the rate of climate change.

“What if, with revelations around methane emissions, it turns out to be only a 10 or 20 percent reduction of carbon from coal? If that's true,” he said, “gas is not the panacea.”

The American Petroleum Institute said in an e-mailed response that federal offshore drilling rules are already cutting down on the emissions tallied by the government. Spokesmen for the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the natural gas lobbying groups Energy in Depth, American Clean Skies Foundation and America’s Natural Gas Alliance, which have all been pushing to expand the use of gas, declined to comment on the EPA’s new figures and what they mean for the comparison between gas and coal.

But industry groups point out that gas looks attractive compared to the alternatives.

Nuclear energy is less polluting than gas from a climate-changing perspective, but it is costly and viewed skeptically in the United States because of the dangers of disposing of radioactive waste. So-called “clean coal”—including underground carbon sequestration—could work, but the technology has repeatedly stalled, remains unproven, and is at least 15 years away. Renewable sources like wind and solar are being developed rapidly, but the energy is expensive and won’t provide a commanding supply of electricity for decades.

Gas, on the other hand, is plentiful, accessible and local.

Methane Is a Potent Climate Gas

Measuring the amount of natural gas that is leaking during drilling is one challenge. Getting a grip on how that gas—which is mostly methane—affects the environment, and what effect it will have on global warming, is another. And on that, some scientists still disagree.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, as well as methane, propane and lesser-known gases that also affect climate change. For the purposes of standardization, all these gases are described together using the unit Co2e, or carbon dioxide “equivalent.” But because each gas has a different potency, or “warming” effect on the atmosphere, a factor is applied to convert it to an equivalent of carbon dioxide.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas and among the more potent greenhouse gases, has far more of an effect on climate change than carbon dioxide. But determining the factor that should be applied to measure its relative warming affect is still being debated.

To crunch its numbers, the EPA calculated the average concentration of methane in the atmosphere over a 100-year period and determined that over that period methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Using that equation, a ton of methane emissions is the equivalent of 21 tons of carbon dioxide.

But some scientists argue that the impact of methane gas should be calculated over a shorter time period, because methane degrades quickly, and because gas drilling releases large quantities of methane into the atmosphere all at once, likely concentrating and amplifying the effect.

Robert Howarth, an environmental biology professor at Cornell University, used research from the United Nations to calculate that if methane’s potency were considered over 20 years rather than 100 years, it would be 72 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in terms of its warming potential.

Figured that way, the climate effect of methane from natural gas would quickly outpace the climate effect of carbon dioxide from burning coal. Howarth’s research is incomplete and has been criticized because at first he failed to figure in methane emissions from coal mining. But he said that after correcting his error, the emissions from coal barely changed, and the data still showed that the intensity of methane could erase the advantages of using natural gas.

“Even small leakages of natural gas to the atmosphere have very large consequences,” Howarth wrote in a March memorandum [2], which he says is a precursor to a more thorough study that could begin to scientifically answer these questions. “When the total emissions of greenhouse gases are considered … natural gas and coal from mountaintop removal probably have similar releases, and in fact natural gas may be worse in terms of consequences on global warming.”

Howarth says his latest calculations show that the type of shale gas drilling taking place in parts of Texas, New York and Pennsylvania leads to particularly high emissions and would likely be just as dirty as coal.

Environmental groups say factual data on how much methane is emitted from gas fields—and what the warming affect of that methane is—should be locked down before major policy decisions are made to shift the nation toward more reliance on gas.

“You can’t just assume away some of these sources as de minimus,” said Tom Singer, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council who focuses on emissions reporting in New Mexico. “You need to get a handle on them before you can make a determination.”

Less Pollution Means More Profit

The EPA tracks fugitive and vented methane emissions through a program called Natural Gas STAR and then works to get drilling companies to save money by stanching their leaks and selling the gas they capture for profit. It was a discrepancy in the Gas STAR data that prompted the EPA to sharply revise the government’s greenhouse gas statistics late last year.

According to Gas STAR’s most recent figures, at least 1.6 percent of all the natural gas produced in the United States each year, about 475 billion cubic feet, is assumed to be leaked or vented during production. But those numbers were reported before the EPA adjusted its greenhouse gas estimates, and they are expected to rise when the new estimates are plugged into the calculation. If companies could capture even the gas leaked in Gas STAR’s current estimates, it would be worth $2.1 billion a year at today’s prices and would cut the nation’s emissions by more than 2 percent right off the bat. Several studies show that maintaining and installing equipment to capture the emissions pays for itself within 24 months.

Gas STAR has seen some success in pushing companies to use these capture tools. The EPA’s 2010 greenhouse gas inventory, using 2008 data, shows that even though more gas is being produced from more wells, total emissions from that production have decreased by more than 26 percent since 1990, mostly due to the progress of Gas STAR. But while these figures demonstrate that Gas STAR is effective in lowering the annual rate of emissions, the EPA’s new figures essentially move the starting point, and, when recalculated, 2008 emissions are now understood to have been 53 percent higher than emissions in 1990.

That doesn’t mean the program isn’t working—it is. It simply means that the road to making reductions significant enough to affect the rate of climate change is much longer than expected.

The EPA now reports that emissions from conventional hydraulic fracturing are 35 times higher than the agency had previously estimated. It also reports that emissions from the type of hydraulic fracturing being used in the nation’s bountiful new shale gas reserves, like the Marcellus, are almost 9,000 times higher than it had previously calculated, a figure that begins to correspond with Robert Howarth’s research at Cornell.

Clean Enough to Count On?

Getting a solid estimate of the total lifecycle emissions from natural gas is critical not only to President Obama’s­­—and Congress’–decisions about the nation’s energy and climate strategy, but also to future planning for the nation’s utilities.

Even small changes in the lifecycle emissions figures for gas would eventually affect policy and incentives for the utility industry, and ultimately make a big difference in how gas stacks up against its alternatives.

Rogers, the Duke executive, says the country’s large promised reserves of natural gas must also hold up for gas to prove beneficial, in terms of both cost and climate. If domestic reserves turn out to be smaller than predicted, or the nation runs out of gas and turns to liquefied gas imported from overseas, then the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas would be almost equal to coal, Jaramillo pointed out in her 2007 lifecycle analysis, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology [3]. That’s because the additional processing and shipping of liquefied gas would put even more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere.

“In the 60’s we put a needle in one arm—it was called oil,” Rogers said. “If the shale gas doesn't play out as predicted, and we build a lot of gas plants in this country, and we don't drill offshore, we're going to be putting the needle in the other arm and it's going to be called gas.”

The utilities are in a bind because they have to build new power plants to meet the nation’s demand for energy, while anticipating an as-yet-undefined set of federal climate and emissions regulations that they believe are inevitable. Do they build new gas-fired plants, which can cost $2 billion and take three years to bring online? Or do they wait for proven systems that can capture carbon from coal-fired plants and sequester it underground?

If carbon sequestration works, coal-based power emissions could drop by 90 percent, said Nick Akins, president of American Electric Power, the nation’s largest electric utility and the number-one emitter of greenhouse gas pollution. That suggests to Akins that natural gas may not be the solution to the nation’s energy needs, but rather the transitional fuel that bridges the gap to cleaner technologies.

"Going from a 100 percent CO2 emitter to a 50 percent solution when you could go beyond that is something we need to turn our attention to,” said Akins. “If there is a 90 percent solution for coal, and other forms like nuclear, and renewables, then obviously you want to push in that direction as well.”

Correction: The article originally misstated that methane, at least 21 times more potent than CO2, is the most potent of greenhouse gases. The article should have stated that it is among the more potent greenhouse gases.

Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated



by Abrahm Lustgarten ProPublica, Jan. 25, 2011, 8:34 a.m.

10:36 a.m.: This post has been corrected [1].

The United States is poised to bet its energy future on natural gas as a clean, plentiful fuel that can supplant coal and oil. But new research by the Environmental Protection Agency—and a growing understanding of the pollution associated with the full “life cycle” of gas production—is casting doubt on the assumption that gas offers a quick and easy solution to climate change.

Advocates for natural gas routinely assert that it produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal and is a significant step toward a greener energy future. But those assumptions are based on emissions from the tailpipe or smokestack and don’t account for the methane and other pollution emitted when gas is extracted and piped to power plants and other customers.

The EPA’s new analysis doubles its previous estimates for the amount of methane gas that leaks from loose pipe fittings and is vented from gas wells, drastically changing the picture of the nation’s emissions that the agency painted as recently as April. Calculations for some gas-field emissions jumped by several hundred percent. Methane levels from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas were 9,000 times higher than previously reported.

When all these emissions are counted, gas may be as little as 25 percent cleaner than coal, or perhaps even less.

Even accounting for the new analysis, natural gas—which also emits less toxic and particulate pollution—offers a significant environmental advantage. But the narrower the margins get, the weaker the political arguments become and the more power utilities flinch at investing billions to switch to a fuel that may someday lose the government’s long-term support.

Understanding exactly how much greenhouse gas pollution comes from drilling is especially important, because the Obama administration has signaled that gas production may be an island of common political ground in its never-ending march toward an energy bill. The administration and Congress are seeking not just a steady, independent supply of energy, but a fast and drastic reduction in the greenhouse gases associated with climate change.

Billions of cubic feet of climate-changing greenhouse gases—roughly the equivalent of the annual emissions from 35 million automobiles—seep from loose pipe valves or are vented intentionally from gas production facilities into the atmosphere each year, according to the EPA. Gas drilling emissions alone account for at least one-fifth of human-caused methane in the world’s atmosphere, the World Bank estimates, and as more natural gas is drilled, the EPA expects these emissions to increase dramatically.

When scientists evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions of energy sources over their full lifecycle and incorporate the methane emitted during production, the advantage of natural gas holds true only when it is burned in more modern and efficient plants.

But roughly half of the 1,600 gas-fired power plants in the United States operate at the lowest end of the efficiency spectrum. And even before the EPA sharply revised its data, these plants were only 32 percent cleaner than coal, according to a lifecycle analysis by Paulina Jaramillo, an energy expert and associate professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

Now that the EPA has doubled its emissions estimates, the advantages are slimmer still. Based on the new numbers, the median gas-powered plant in the United States is just 40 percent cleaner than coal, according to calculations ProPublica made based on Jaramillo’s formulas. Those 800 inefficient plants offer only a 25 percent improvement.

Other scientists say the pollution gap between gas and coal could shrink even more. That’s in part because the primary pollutant from natural gas, methane, is far more potent than other greenhouse gases, and scientists are still trying to understand its effect on the climate—and because it continues to be difficult to measure exactly how much methane is being emitted.

In November the EPA announced new greenhouse gas reporting rules for the oil and gas industry. For the first time under the Clean Air Act, the nation’s guiding air quality law, thousands of small facilities will have to be counted in the pollution reporting inventory, a change that might also lead to higher measurements.

The natural gas industry, in the meantime, has pressed hard for subsidies and guarantees that would establish gas as an indispensible source of American energy and create a market for the vast new gas reserves discovered in recent years. The industry would like to see new power plants built to run on gas, automobile infrastructure developed to support gas vehicles and a slew of other ambitious plans that would commit the United States to a reliance on gas for decades to come.

But if it turns out that natural gas offers a more modest improvement over coal and oil, as the new EPA data begin to suggest, then billions of dollars of taxpayer and industry investment in new infrastructure, drilling and planning could be spent for limited gain.

“The problem is you build a gas plant for 40 years. That's a long bridge,” said James Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, one of the nation’s largest power companies. Duke generates more than half of its electricity from coal, but Rogers has also been a vocal proponent of cap-and-trade legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Rogers worries that a blind jump to gas could leave the country dependent on yet another fossil resource, without stemming the rate of climate change.

“What if, with revelations around methane emissions, it turns out to be only a 10 or 20 percent reduction of carbon from coal? If that's true,” he said, “gas is not the panacea.”

The American Petroleum Institute said in an e-mailed response that federal offshore drilling rules are already cutting down on the emissions tallied by the government. Spokesmen for the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the natural gas lobbying groups Energy in Depth, American Clean Skies Foundation and America’s Natural Gas Alliance, which have all been pushing to expand the use of gas, declined to comment on the EPA’s new figures and what they mean for the comparison between gas and coal.

But industry groups point out that gas looks attractive compared to the alternatives.

Nuclear energy is less polluting than gas from a climate-changing perspective, but it is costly and viewed skeptically in the United States because of the dangers of disposing of radioactive waste. So-called “clean coal”—including underground carbon sequestration—could work, but the technology has repeatedly stalled, remains unproven, and is at least 15 years away. Renewable sources like wind and solar are being developed rapidly, but the energy is expensive and won’t provide a commanding supply of electricity for decades.

Gas, on the other hand, is plentiful, accessible and local.

Methane Is a Potent Climate Gas

Measuring the amount of natural gas that is leaking during drilling is one challenge. Getting a grip on how that gas—which is mostly methane—affects the environment, and what effect it will have on global warming, is another. And on that, some scientists still disagree.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, as well as methane, propane and lesser-known gases that also affect climate change. For the purposes of standardization, all these gases are described together using the unit Co2e, or carbon dioxide “equivalent.” But because each gas has a different potency, or “warming” effect on the atmosphere, a factor is applied to convert it to an equivalent of carbon dioxide.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas and among the more potent greenhouse gases, has far more of an effect on climate change than carbon dioxide. But determining the factor that should be applied to measure its relative warming affect is still being debated.

To crunch its numbers, the EPA calculated the average concentration of methane in the atmosphere over a 100-year period and determined that over that period methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Using that equation, a ton of methane emissions is the equivalent of 21 tons of carbon dioxide.

But some scientists argue that the impact of methane gas should be calculated over a shorter time period, because methane degrades quickly, and because gas drilling releases large quantities of methane into the atmosphere all at once, likely concentrating and amplifying the effect.

Robert Howarth, an environmental biology professor at Cornell University, used research from the United Nations to calculate that if methane’s potency were considered over 20 years rather than 100 years, it would be 72 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in terms of its warming potential.

Figured that way, the climate effect of methane from natural gas would quickly outpace the climate effect of carbon dioxide from burning coal. Howarth’s research is incomplete and has been criticized because at first he failed to figure in methane emissions from coal mining. But he said that after correcting his error, the emissions from coal barely changed, and the data still showed that the intensity of methane could erase the advantages of using natural gas.

“Even small leakages of natural gas to the atmosphere have very large consequences,” Howarth wrote in a March memorandum [2], which he says is a precursor to a more thorough study that could begin to scientifically answer these questions. “When the total emissions of greenhouse gases are considered … natural gas and coal from mountaintop removal probably have similar releases, and in fact natural gas may be worse in terms of consequences on global warming.”

Howarth says his latest calculations show that the type of shale gas drilling taking place in parts of Texas, New York and Pennsylvania leads to particularly high emissions and would likely be just as dirty as coal.

Environmental groups say factual data on how much methane is emitted from gas fields—and what the warming affect of that methane is—should be locked down before major policy decisions are made to shift the nation toward more reliance on gas.

“You can’t just assume away some of these sources as de minimus,” said Tom Singer, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council who focuses on emissions reporting in New Mexico. “You need to get a handle on them before you can make a determination.”

Less Pollution Means More Profit

The EPA tracks fugitive and vented methane emissions through a program called Natural Gas STAR and then works to get drilling companies to save money by stanching their leaks and selling the gas they capture for profit. It was a discrepancy in the Gas STAR data that prompted the EPA to sharply revise the government’s greenhouse gas statistics late last year.

According to Gas STAR’s most recent figures, at least 1.6 percent of all the natural gas produced in the United States each year, about 475 billion cubic feet, is assumed to be leaked or vented during production. But those numbers were reported before the EPA adjusted its greenhouse gas estimates, and they are expected to rise when the new estimates are plugged into the calculation. If companies could capture even the gas leaked in Gas STAR’s current estimates, it would be worth $2.1 billion a year at today’s prices and would cut the nation’s emissions by more than 2 percent right off the bat. Several studies show that maintaining and installing equipment to capture the emissions pays for itself within 24 months.

Gas STAR has seen some success in pushing companies to use these capture tools. The EPA’s 2010 greenhouse gas inventory, using 2008 data, shows that even though more gas is being produced from more wells, total emissions from that production have decreased by more than 26 percent since 1990, mostly due to the progress of Gas STAR. But while these figures demonstrate that Gas STAR is effective in lowering the annual rate of emissions, the EPA’s new figures essentially move the starting point, and, when recalculated, 2008 emissions are now understood to have been 53 percent higher than emissions in 1990.

That doesn’t mean the program isn’t working—it is. It simply means that the road to making reductions significant enough to affect the rate of climate change is much longer than expected.

The EPA now reports that emissions from conventional hydraulic fracturing are 35 times higher than the agency had previously estimated. It also reports that emissions from the type of hydraulic fracturing being used in the nation’s bountiful new shale gas reserves, like the Marcellus, are almost 9,000 times higher than it had previously calculated, a figure that begins to correspond with Robert Howarth’s research at Cornell.

Clean Enough to Count On?

Getting a solid estimate of the total lifecycle emissions from natural gas is critical not only to President Obama’s­­—and Congress’–decisions about the nation’s energy and climate strategy, but also to future planning for the nation’s utilities.

Even small changes in the lifecycle emissions figures for gas would eventually affect policy and incentives for the utility industry, and ultimately make a big difference in how gas stacks up against its alternatives.

Rogers, the Duke executive, says the country’s large promised reserves of natural gas must also hold up for gas to prove beneficial, in terms of both cost and climate. If domestic reserves turn out to be smaller than predicted, or the nation runs out of gas and turns to liquefied gas imported from overseas, then the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas would be almost equal to coal, Jaramillo pointed out in her 2007 lifecycle analysis, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology [3]. That’s because the additional processing and shipping of liquefied gas would put even more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere.

“In the 60’s we put a needle in one arm—it was called oil,” Rogers said. “If the shale gas doesn't play out as predicted, and we build a lot of gas plants in this country, and we don't drill offshore, we're going to be putting the needle in the other arm and it's going to be called gas.”

The utilities are in a bind because they have to build new power plants to meet the nation’s demand for energy, while anticipating an as-yet-undefined set of federal climate and emissions regulations that they believe are inevitable. Do they build new gas-fired plants, which can cost $2 billion and take three years to bring online? Or do they wait for proven systems that can capture carbon from coal-fired plants and sequester it underground?

If carbon sequestration works, coal-based power emissions could drop by 90 percent, said Nick Akins, president of American Electric Power, the nation’s largest electric utility and the number-one emitter of greenhouse gas pollution. That suggests to Akins that natural gas may not be the solution to the nation’s energy needs, but rather the transitional fuel that bridges the gap to cleaner technologies.

"Going from a 100 percent CO2 emitter to a 50 percent solution when you could go beyond that is something we need to turn our attention to,” said Akins. “If there is a 90 percent solution for coal, and other forms like nuclear, and renewables, then obviously you want to push in that direction as well.”

Correction: The article originally misstated that methane, at least 21 times more potent than CO2, is the most potent of greenhouse gases. The article should have stated that it is among the more potent greenhouse gases.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why a Gruesome Pennsylvania Abortion Clinic Had Not Been Inspected for 17 Years

by Marian Wang ProPublica,

While this week's indictment involving a grisly abortion mill in Philadelphia has shocked many [1], the grand jury's nearly 300-page report also contains a surprising and little-noted revelation: In the mid-1990s, the administration of Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, a pro-choice Republican, ended regular inspections of abortion clinics—a policy that continued until just last year.

According to the grand jury report [2][PDF] released this week by Philadelphia prosecutors, Pennsylvania health officials deliberately chose not to enforce laws to ensure that abortion clinics provide the same level of care as other medical service providers.

The District Attorney’s office this week charged an abortion doctor, Kermit Gosnell, with murder and infanticide. Nine other workers at the abortion clinic, the Women’s Medical Society, also face charges. According to the prosecutors, Gosnell and his associates not only broke state law by performing abortions after 24 weeks—they also killed live babies by stabbing them with scissors and cutting their spinal cords. Law enforcement officials found blood-stained furniture, unsterilized instruments and fetal remains scattered about the clinic. At least one woman, a refugee from Nepal, had died under Gosnell’s care after being given repeated injections of a dangerous sedative. Prosecutors said Gosnell made millions from treating and sometimes maiming his patients, who were mostly low-income, minority women [3].

But perhaps most frightening of all? The atrocities were discovered by accident [4], as the Philadelphia Inquirer points out. Warnings—from patients and their attorneys, a doctor at a Philadelphia hospital, women’s health groups, pro-choice groups, and even an employee of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health—failed to prompt state and local authorities to investigate or take action against the clinic.

The grand jury report said that one look at the place would have detected the problems, but the Pennsylvania Department of Health hadn’t inspected the place since 1993. Here’s the grand jury report, in surprisingly strong language:

The Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all. The politics in question were not anti-abortion, but pro. With the change of administration from Governor Casey to Governor Ridge, officials concluded that inspections would be “putting a barrier up to women” seeking abortions.

“Even nail salons in Pennsylvania are monitored more closely for client safety,” the report states. "Without regular inspections, providers like Gosnell continue to operate; unlawful and dangerous third-trimester abortions go undetected; and many women, especially poor women, suffer."

According to the report, the policy change occurred after 1993 when attorneys under the administration of then-governor Tom Ridge "interpreted the same regulations that had permitted annual inspections for years to no longer authorize those inspections." Thereafter, only inspections triggered by complaints were authorized. The report noted that Department of Public Health officials reinstituted regular inspections of abortion clinics in February 2010. Ed Rendell, the Pennsylvania Democrat whose second term as governor ended last week, released a statement saying he was "flabbergasted [5]" when he learned of the department's lax scrutiny of abortion clinics and immediately ordered increased inspections, the Associated Press reported.

Still, the earlier policy had its defenders. According to the grand jury report, when the Department of Health's chief lawyer was asked about it, she responded, "People die."

Given that between 30,000 to 40,000 abortions [6] are performed each year Pennsylvania, it’s unclear how many women have been put at risk in the almost two decades that regulators suspended regular inspections of abortion clinics in Pennsylvania. The grand jury report does note that many organizations perform safe abortion procedures and have high standards of care, but that’s “no thanks to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.”

The state’s Department of Health did not comment on the matter but said it would forward our request on to the governor’s press office. We've also left a message with Tom Ridge's spokeswoman. We’ll update if they respond.