Monday, October 29, 2012

In Kitimat, First Nations Say No to Oil Sands Pipeline

Haisla chiefs open Northern Gateway hearings with quiet plea, warning.
By Dirk Meissner, 11 Jan 2012, Canadian Press

Map of Northern Gateway pipeline
Northern Gateway pipeline would connect Alberta's oil sands to Kitimat Village in northern B.C. Source: Enbridge.


The public relations battle surrounding the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline kicked up once again Tuesday, but the people on centre stage at the start of environmental hearings delivered a more quiet plea and warning.

"I know all the history, laws, ins and outs of the native culture," said Rod Bolton, a hereditary Haisla chief who spoke at the opening of the hearings in Kitimat, B.C.
"Please, hear me. We will not be walked over again like was done in the reserve system. We want to have a voice."
Days before the hearings began, environmentalists issued polls suggesting Canadians are opposed to tanker traffic along B.C. coastlines while an open letter from the federal natural resources minister referred to some of them as "radicals" backed by big U.S. money and naive celebrities.
But the strong words from both sides were a stark contrast from the gentle opening delivered by hereditary Chief Sammy Robinson after Haisla dancers and drummers paraded into the Aboriginal community's meeting hall.
"Walk softly on our road," he said. "We are very happy to have you in our territory. Good luck."
Enbridge proposed pipeline/tanker route

The long, fjord-like channel that leads into Kitimat is the proposed site for the oil tanker port because of its deep, protected waters.
Enbridge Inc. plans to bring oil super tankers the size of the Empire State building into the town where they will be loaded with Alberta oil and shipped to Asia.
Environmental hearings into the proposal, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper has characterized as imperative to the Canadian economy, are expected to last for 18 months.
Enbridge officials are attending the hearings, but won't make any presentations until much later in the process.
'It just terrifies me': Chief Hall
Chief Ken Hall said the pipeline project points a double-barrelled shotgun at the Haisla people, with the threat of a pipeline break and oil tanker spill.
"The Haisla were taught to preserve and conserve everything we get," he said. "It just terrifies me to know that we are facing more destruction."
Robinson said he's been running a fishing charter business out of Douglas Channel for 45 years.
"I know every inch of our territory because I'm out there every day of the summer running my business."
"I am worried," he said, adding he has visions of traditional cultural sites in the channel "covered up with oil."
Art Sterritt, the executive director of Coastal First Nations, which represents 10 aboriginal groups opposed to the project, said it's the First Nations who must live with the threat of an oil spill if the project goes ahead.
He slammed the federal government for trying to colour the hearings.
"We've got an Alberta prime minister trying to bully British Columbians," he said.
'Respect the process': Rae
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver issued an open letter Monday, saying there are "environmental and other radical groups" that are trying to block the pipeline and squelch Canadian resource prosperity and job growth.
"They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada's national economic interest," he said.
Federal Liberal leader Bob Rae equated Oliver's comments to messing with the legal system.
"I think it is as inappropriate for a minister or a prime minister to interfere and intervene and, frankly, intimidate an environmental process as it would be to interfere or intervene in a court case. It is entirely inappropriate," Rae said in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Kitimat BC - aerial view

"Once the environmental process happens the prime minister should keep quiet, Mr. Oliver should keep quiet and should respect the process. This is part and parcel of how this government operates."
Outside of the meeting hall, a lone man stood in support of the Northern Gateway pipeline project.
Matthew Mask, a local plumber dressed in a Super Mario costume, said plumbers need oil jobs.
He mocked the pipeline protesters, saying that while he was prepared to stand outside the hall in the cold early-morning hours, protesters were sleeping in their warm beds.
"Me and my brother, if we don't have a pipeline, how the heck are we supposed to get work around here? It's not fair."  [Tyee]

  • Van Isle

     One has to wonder why these
    One has to wonder why these hearings are starting in Kitimat and ending in Alberta? Quite simple; the further east this puppet board goes the more people who make a presentation before them will be in favour of this project. In 18 months all this anger and frustration will be all forgotten; the professional liars will dominate the hearings.
  • BC's Enduring Central Coast: First in a series

    A natural gem. A cradle of civilization. Today's voices. Tomorrow's promise. First in a series of reports from Tyee Solutions Society.
    By Jude Isabella, Today,

    British Columbia's Enduring Coast 


    "You know it's a great day when you're knee deep in sperm." Ryan Cloutier, a young biologist, is delighted with his predicament.
    The rocks in Kwakume Inlet are slippery. Spawning herring roil the shallow water. And Cloutier is happily scooping up as many fish as he can catch with the only net aboard the boat -- a child-sized, white-meshed one -- and plopping them into the bucket I hold in one hand, my camera dangling from the other wrist.
    Every once in a while a fish propels itself out of the water and onto the exposed rockweed. I pounce, the camera bounces. I manage to grab the slippery silver specimen without slipping myself. It's inefficient, but we collect almost 40 herring this way, an impromptu solution to the problem of collecting enough DNA to track herring populations on the Central Coast of British Columbia.
    I'm in Kwakume Inlet with four biologists, members of The Herring School, a punning name for an interdisciplinary effort to understand a fish crucial to the marine food web. What do they eat? What eats them? Are there distinct genetic populations -- herring tribes or sub-species? How have they sustained human and other predators, now and in the past? It's all new to science.
    Across the bay a Heiltsuk fisher practices a much older tradition, attaching kelp to fishing lines and stringing them close to shore. Female herring deposit eggs on seaweed near the shoreline, and males flood the waters with sperm (milt). The seaweed lures fish ready to spawn. Sometimes fishers dangle tree boughs in the water instead. Whatever the medium, later they will retrieve the salty 'spawn-on-kelp' to eat, another product of a ready-to-harvest habitat.

    The human footprint has always been part of the story here, its tread sometimes light, at others heavy. Today the herring are scarcer, the salmon more elusive, the forest diminished. Even the humans are fewer: only three people 'occupy' Namu continuously any more. But the story carries on, changing and the same.
    It's unusual to find a place 'continuously occupied' by the same cultural group since, well, the beginning of modern human time. The Central Coast's ancient web of people, wildlife and landscape intrigues scientists. They seek to understand its remarkable resilience, a quality they see in a system's capacity to survive disturbance, to change and reorganize but maintain its essence; its capacity, in short, to bounce back from terrible loss or catastrophic events.
    This is a capacity we may need some day.
    Coast in motion
    Carl Humchitt, a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, is our boat skipper on this expedition in pursuit of spawning herring. From Bella Bella, a Heiltsuk reserve, he had steered his Shellfish I, a rugged welded silver bullet of a boat, south to Lama Pass.
    A powerfully-built man in his early 40s, Humchitt navigates with ease, vigilant to his surroundings as he points out places of interest and shares pieces of their stories. We pass one section of land he calls "right eye in, left eye out."
    "My brother shot a deer there," Humchitt says, gesturing to spot on shore. "He hit the right eye and the deer's left eye popped out."
    To its hundreds of thousands of transient visitors, the waters the Shellfish 1 is skipping across are those of the Inside Passage, a marine highway for BC Ferries and other shipping traffic between Port Hardy, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, and Prince Rupert. Others see only a spectacular backdrop to a holiday snap taken on a cruise to Alaska. A place to pass through. Weather permitting.

    Halfway between Vancouver and Alaska: the Enduring Coast.
    Stormy. Formidable. Spectacular. Wild. As dynamic as the words tossed off by casual visitors are, their vision of the Central Coast is still only one-dimensional; they are seeing only a single frame in a long and ongoing movie.
    The stretch of coastline south of Kitimat and north of Port Hardy is the bull's eye in the lush, wet coastal eco-region that runs from southeastern Alaska to northern California. It is a landscape in constant, if slow, motion. It teeters and totters in a tectonic rhythm, sinking or rising in response to how glaciers alternately compressed and retreated from it during the last ice age.
    As a result, the level of the sea against the flank of the coastal mountains has also gone down and up for thousands of years; it's still in motion. That makes the search for cultural signposts here a challenge. The slow-mo wobbling of the land may bury artifacts underwater or fling them way above the current coastline.
    Amidst the post-glacial geological chaos, though, it's certain that people settled in and formed communities. And they took an active role in managing their wider biological communities: salmon, herring, and eulachon runs, nurturing shellfish beds, and tending terrestrial food habitat; what scientists call "Mountaintop to Ocean Bottom" resource management.

    Prime real estate
    It's no coincidence that three First Nations -- Heiltsuk, Wuikinuxv and Kitasoo -- rub up against each other's boundaries here, a vibrant world destined for territorial tensions. Paddle into almost any inlet or bay and the quantity of middens, a clear mark of occupation, confirms that this place was valuable natural real estate long before Captain George Vancouver sailed through in 1792, or explorer Alexander Mackenzie hoofed it overland a year later. Certainly long before fishers, loggers, and cannery owners swarmed a hundred years after that -- or the energy companies now eyeing it as a shipping corridor.
    At Lama Pass we briefly turn northeast to avoid Hunter Island, cutting south again where Fisher Channel leads down its east side, an area Humchitt says is the most treacherous in this part of the Inside Passage. One hand on the wheel, he waves to where relentless storms grounded him once for almost three weeks. To me it's an endless unrolling 3-D wallpaper of trees, rocks, ocean... tree, rocks, ocean... trees, rocks, ocean. Left alone here I would die.
    Humchitt points to an island, a grim reminder of a long ago raid on the Heiltsuk from the neighbouring Haida First Nation. Fisher Channel leads to Fitz Hugh Sound where Mount Buxton slides into sight, announcing our approach to Calvert Island.
    "I can't usually go this fast here, especially in June," Humchitt says. "It's full of humpbacks." And though it's April, as if on cue, a whale fin slices the water, its fluke sinking into the sea seconds later. Humchitt smiles when I ask how he did that.

    Herring farts
    As we approach Kwakume Inlet the biologists gaze out the back of the boat looking for bubbles in the water. "We don't call them 'bubbles,' we call them 'put ups,'" Humchitt says, and then he laughs, explaining that "put ups" are farts.
    Scientists believe that herring sometimes communicate by blowing air out their anus. In a season that has left the biologists and the Heiltsuk bereft of herring, farting fish are a welcome sight. Once we spot the sea lions, eagles, seagulls, and the fisher's lines, the hunt is over.
    Herring Spawn on Hemlock
    Herring spawn on hemlock: a 'resilient' fishery.
    The fisher across the Inlet, Babsie, a small woman in a purple shirt, white ball cap perched on her head, shoos us away from her side of the Inlet. Her lines stretch across the water, wavy ribbons of attached kelp dangling a metre below the surface. After a few days, Babsie will pull them up, the kelp encrusted with layers of herring roe.
    Spawn on kelp (SOK) is a resilient fishery. It benefits multiple species: a high-protein food source for humans and other poachers -- shrimp, crabs, and fish -- while the herring will swim away to spawn another day. Babsie hopes for a good haul to sell; Japan is the dominant market. Or at least enough to share.
    "We don't want you to spook them, and we don't know if there's going to be anymore," she calls, standing on her boat deck, practically vibrating with excitement. "You know, I haven't been down here for three years. They're just coming back."
    Scare the herring, Humchitt explains, and they shoot past the kelp, like silver torpedoes. "Not good for the product," he states in his laconic way.
    Of course, that's only a problem if there are fish. In the past four decades, spawn events on the Central Coast have declined by 50 percent. Humchitt remembers a time when grounded surf scoters -- a type of duck -- would paddle the shoreline by the dozens, too full of herring roe to fly. "The ecosystem counts on the herring," he says. "You can't survive without it, nobody can, not even us. It would be the most lethal game of dominoes to lose."
    Today the water is milky white, so thick with herring milt the biologists have abandoned their goal of diving to try to puzzle out the place of herring spawn in the subtidal food web. A film of sperm masks everything, my camera lens included, and the biologists can't see a thing.
    We adapt. Three of us in the water, three in the boat. Humchitt pushes the craft back from the rocks with one hand, with the other grabbing any fish with the misfortune to plop near his feet.

    CLICK HERE FOR SPECIAL VIDEO REPORT: The Heiltsuk Nation take back the ancestral bones from Simon Fraser University.
    Snuffling sea lions play close by. Dozens of bald eagles gaze down from cedar trees, or less regally from rocky outcrops, standing amidst the riff raff of seagulls.
    With herring spawn comes an explosion of life at all links in the food chain, strands of the food web, whatever -- the world is more vibrant than the moment before the fish arrived, even the sky looks bluer, the clouds fluffier, the water greener, the sun brighter. The moment is magical. If a disembodied choir sang to us from the heavens I wouldn't be surprised. A perfect ending to a perfect day.
    Except it's not quite over. Humchitt has another story to show us before the day ends.

    Not long after we leave Kwakume, we turn to enter Namu Bay -- known to its traditional Heiltsuk users as Na'wamu, or Ma'awas.
    I'd first heard of Namu through scientific papers. Its sheltering cove at the important junction of Fitz Hugh Sound and Burke Channel was probably habitable as early as 13,500 ago. The sea was lower then. What today is Queen Charlotte Sound, to the north and west, was a coastal plain of lakes and streams where a living could be made.
    The earliest archaeological evidence dates human settlements here to 9,700 years BP, or 'before present.' Estimating past populations is an inexact science, but more people certainly lived here seasonally prior to European contact than do now.
    Take a tour of a ghost cannery with one of the last three full-time residents of Namu.
    As a modern ruin this place had never interested me, until I see it. Holy cow.
    The weathered grey profiles of several large buildings line the back of the bay. Moving closer, Humchitt maneuvers the Shellfish I along the crumbling waterfront of a former townsite.
    Namu's first European settlers arrived in 1893. They built a fish cannery here and a sawmill. By its modern peak, around 1970, Namu was one of the largest of its kind on the coast, with 3,500 people working on shore and another 1,500 crewing fishing boats.
    Now it's all dissolving back into the land and sea. Grey two-by-fours litter shoreline riprap, pilings are bereft of a dock. An old coastal freighter, the MV Chilcotin Princess, bleeding rust, leans against the rotting piers supporting a former warehouse. The liveliest sights are the trees and shrubs reclaiming houses and streets.
    After the life-affirming immersion with the herring spawn, we're silent, chilled by the deathly pallor of a modern ghost town. The view from the Shellfish I's back deck is The World Without Us in real time. It makes us thoughtful as we head back to Bella Bella.

    Life with ghosts
    I return to the Central Coast twice after my stint at The Herring School, getting a second chance to see Namu a month after my first. I discover that the ghost town still has a community, even if it's made up of only three old people.
    At first I'm confused when the boat bumps up against a floating dock below the collapsing walls of the old cannery. It wasn't there a month ago. I find it belongs to Pete and Rene Darwin, a couple in their mid-60s who assembled it -- along with several small buildings that it supports -- from salvaged logs and lumber recycled from the town's collapsing buildings.
    Legal title to this modern ruin and some 100 acres around it is held by Namu Properties, owned by Langley businessman David Milne. It's been for sale for a decade but, as Milne says, "it's a complicated property," to unload.
    Meanwhile the Darwins, along with Theresa May, 63, who joined them a year after their arrival in 2005, are Namu's "caretakers."
    It's a nebulous job description, with little in the way of either specific duties or pay. So they adapt, setting up a party float with picnic tables, a fire pit and gift shop for visiting cruising boats in summer, and sea cucumber and urchin fishers in fall. Overnighters pay a $0.75-a-foot docking fee that hasn't changed in eight years. If you ask nicely, they may give you a guided tour.
    This was once a humming settlement, with a nursing station, machine shop and forge, radio shop, store, restaurant, post office, school, and dormitories. It was all left behind when the last operator, B.C. Packers, closed the doors and walked away from Namu.
    The faint smell of fish oil lingers amidst the intact buildings, some rented by local lodges to overwinter boats. The store is still "stocked" with magazines, engine v-belts hung along one wall, shelves of paint and spark plugs, fluorescent light tubes, pallets of tartar sauce, mayonnaise, and jam -- the last a sweet lure for marauding martens, resident weasels smart enough to break open the jars and feast. The store had a liquor license until 1995.
    "We have spark plugs for your Model T should you want one," May says.
    Other buildings are collapsing: roofs falling in, floors and pilings giving way, corrugated metal siding worked loose and rattling in the wind, even as smaller dwellings are going up: birdhouses line the cannery's silent "streets," now alive with flowers, currant bushes, fruit trees, and what I joke are 'culturally modified' alders, coaxed into hearts and other playful shapes.

    "You can't be a pansy ass"
    When not greeting visitors, Theresa and Rene carve art pieces from wood for their gift shop. Pete takes me to his workshop to show off his foray into the world of magnetic energy. More a student of biology and archaeology, I don't quite grasp the concept and equipment, although from the tools neatly lining the walls and the fact that they're isolated, it's obvious Pete knows how to fix things. Together the trio fish, tend their tulips and daffodils, their peach and kiwi trees, spinach and chives, and chase off the voracious golden-crowned sparrows that maraud their berry bushes.
    And occasionally they burn down a house. Or two. Or three.
    On a slope behind the cannery is an area they call New Town. Its small frame houses were once the homes of senior employees. Now they're increasingly in danger of collapsing on top of curious visitors whom no amount of signage or warning can keep from entering.
    So the Darwins and May did the responsible thing. "We each got a house to burn down," says May, a grandmotherly figure clutching a vente-size go cup of coffee to her fuzzy pink sweater, white hair pulled up into a bun.
    They figured the best way to keep some visitor from getting hurt was to remove the temptation.
     Namu Bay cannery
    "I was so excited the night before I couldn't sleep," May recalls, eyes lighting up at the memory. "How often do you get to burn down a house?" In hers, she piled dead candles, garbage bags full of toilet paper and old paint cans onto a freezer in the basement. Evidently, it all went off wonderfully. Now, she says, "Pete calls me 'The Pyro'!"
    Each fall Pete, Rene and May tow their floats to a more sheltered cove behind "Whirlwind Bay," Namu's nickname in winter, returning to their station by the cannery in spring. "You can't be a pansy-ass and live in Namu," says Theresa.
    Maybe not. Whimsy, however, appears essential. May came here for a summer job, to keep books and pump gas. The gas pumps are gone, there are no more books to keep, but she has no plans to move on.
    "I was kind of a shy person," May says on reflection. "But you know, I have a good life here. I'm happy here, and it's good to share. And I have good stories to tell."
    The 2.0 existence May shares with Pete and Rene Darwin here, with their satellite dish for Internet and a generator for power, carries on a human story that began on this spot while walls of ice still guarded the valley-tops.
    And in a world accustomed to endings -- whether happy-ever-after or apocalyptic -- the story of this coast has none, no last days. It's about change and continuity, adapting to one damn thing after another. Resilient. 30
    Jude Isabella is a freelance writer and author. She has written for numerous Canadian publications, including The Walrus, New Scientist, Canadian Geographic, Archaeology Magazine, BC Magazine, and The Tyee. She also spent more than a decade as the managing editor of YES Mag, the Science Magazine for Adventurous Minds.
    This article was produced by Tyee Solutions Society in collaboration with Tides Canada Initiatives (TCI). TCI neither influences nor endorses the particular content of TSS' reporting. Other publications wishing to publish this story or other Tyee Solutions Society-produced articles, please see this website for contacts and information.

    " Koch Brothers Exposed"

     "Please watch this documentary " Koch Brothers Exposed"  folks. It sheds light on how these two billionaire brothers are using their money to manipulate the system to push their agendas. This is exactly what is wrong with the system and why we should fight back against this kind of tyranny."

    TKM has posted this twice before but something like this can never be posted enough. Keep in mind that these Koch brothers are the one's that put together and funded the Tea Party, playing the average middle class and poor tea baggers like a fiddle. They also have other Republican and Right-wing front groups including American's for Prosperity, and the Birch Society.

    Friday, October 26, 2012

    The World’s Worst Pollution Problems serving our needs in the developed world,

    :Assessing Health Risks at Hazardous Waste Sites

    Industrial Pollution Brings Suffering to 125 Million People: Report

    Increasing demand of 'developed' countries at root of problem

    - Common Dreams staff
    One hundred and twenty-five million people around the world suffer from serious health problems that stem from industrial pollution -- a public health crisis on par with malaria or tuberculosis (TB) -- according to a report released this week by the Blacksmith Institute.
    (Photo: Blacksmith Institute) The report documents sickness in 49 low and middle income countries with large industrial sectors, including toxin heavy mining sites, tanneries, chemical factories and toxic waste processing sites, and traces the most common industrial pollutants – lead, mercury, chromium, radionuclides and pesticides – in the air, water and soil of the, so called, developing countries.
    Those most often sickened by the pollution are children.
    The report, while revealing unprecedented amounts of pollution induced sickness, is still an "extremely conservative estimate" according to the report.
    "We've investigated 2,600 toxic sites in the last four years, [but] we know there are far more," said Bret Ericson of the Blacksmith Institute.
    According to the study, The World's Worst Pollution Problems (pdf), such toxic sites within the countries documented are commonly within a close vicinity to residential areas, a leading factor in the alarming numbers.
    "We see a lot of disease when we go into these communities," said Ericson. "But we were surprised the health burden was so high – as much as malaria."
    Stephan Robinson, of partner institution Green Cross Switzerland, clarified that a leading factor in the rise of dangerous and unregulated toxic sites in these countries is industrial globalization, especially international mining and resource extraction, and global consumer demand.
    "Much of this industrial activity is to serve our needs in the developed world," said Robinson.
    "Life-threatening pollution will likely increase as the global economy exerts an ever-increasing pressure on industry to meet growing demands. The damage will be greatest in many low and middle-income countries, where industrial pollution prevention regulations and measures have not kept pace," stated Richard Fuller, President, Blacksmith Institute.

    Pollution as big a health problem as malaria or TB, finds report

    Industrial pollutants harm the health of 125 million people, many of whom live in the developing world and work in mining
    Top 10 toxic pollution problems – in pictures
    MDG : Toxic Industries  : Lead-Acid Battery Recycling in Kenya
    Poisoned chalice … Old batteries are broken to extract lead components in Kenya's Machakos district. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images
    Waste from mining, lead smelters, industrial dumps and other toxic sites affects the health of an estimated 125 million people in 49 low- and middle-income countries. This unrecognised health burden is on the scale of malaria or tuberculosis (TB), a new report has found.
    This year's World's worst pollution problems (pdf) report was published on Tuesday by the Blacksmith Institute in partnership with Green Cross Switzerland. It documents, for the first time, the public health impact of industrial pollutants – lead, mercury, chromium, radionuclides and pesticides – in the air, water and soil of developing countries.
    "This is an extremely conservative estimate," said Bret Ericson of the Blacksmith Institute, a small international NGO based in New York City. "We've investigated 2,600 toxic sites in the last four years, [but] we know there are far more."
    The US has an estimated 100,000-300,000 toxic sites, mainly factories or industrial areas, but toxic sites in the low- and middle-income countries assessed in the report are often in residential areas. "We see a lot of disease when we go into these communities," said Ericson. "But we were surprised the health burden was so high – as much as malaria."
    Ericson cited gold mining in the Nigerian state of Zamfara by way of example. In 2010, Médecins Sans Frontières doctors carrying out vaccinations in villages in Zamfara were shocked to see so few children. The villagers were small-scale gold miners who crushed gold-bearing rocks inside village compounds; the raw ore contained extremely high levels of lead, which had killed hundreds of children and left thousands more with lead poisoning.
    The health impact of exposure to toxins at the 2,600 sites identified in the report was estimated using the disability adjusted life years (DALYs) metric, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other bodies use to measure overall disease burden. The metric is expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death, with one DALY equivalent to one lost year of healthy life. The estimate for impact of pollution from toxic sites is 17m DALYs; according to the WHO, malaria's annual toll is 14m DALYs.
    The human toll of pollution in terms of lost productivity, healthcare cost, lowered life expectancy and social impact is very high. Countries need to wise up to this and realise there are inexpensive ways to avoid toxic pollution, said Ericson.
    Stephan Robinson, of Green Cross Switzerland, identifies globalisation, and especially mining and resource extraction, as the reason for many toxic sites. The high price of gold has led to increases in both small- and large-scale mining, while lead production rose 10% last year to meet the needs of battery and electronics manufacturers. "Much of this industrial activity is to serve our needs in the developed world," said Robinson, who added that toxic sites have received very little attention internationally despite their significant impact on the health of millions of people.
    According to Green Cross, 4m-10m tonnes of obsolete but still dangerous pesticides have been abandoned in tens of thousands of locations and must be destroyed. The cost of doing so will range from $3,000-8,000 (£1,900-5,000) a tonne, but attributing responsibility is difficult and it is unclear who will foot the bill, said Robinson. The survey did not include ongoing industrial and large petro-chemical sites.

    Top 10 toxic industries in 2012, listed by DALY

    1) Lead-acid battery recycling (4.8m)
    2) Lead smelting (2.6m)
    3) Mining and ore processing (2.5m)
    4) Tannery operations (1.93m)
    5) Industrial/municipal dump sites (1.23m)
    6) Industrial estates (1.06m)
    7) Artisanal gold mining (1.021m)
    8) Product manufacturing (786,000)
    9) Chemical manufacturing (765,000)
    10) Dye industry (430,000)
    Guardian Global Development

    From dyes to rubbish dumps: top 10 toxic pollution problems – in pictures

    Toxic pollution from industrial and mining processes puts the health of the world's population, particularly people living in low- and middle-income countries, at risk. The Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland have investigated 2,600 sites, and claim 80 million people are at risk from a variety of diseases

    Tuesday, October 23, 2012

    Mitt Romney's Skeleton Closet: Scandals, Quotes, and Character


    "Buenos dias!" -- Mitt Romney's regular greeting to the illegal Guatemalan immigrants who work on his lawn
    "Aw, geez." -- Romney to a reporter who asked him about the lawn workers. He then walked away.
    "I get speakers fees from time to time but not very much.” -- Mitt Romney. ("Not very much" was over $500,000 in 2010.)
    "I'm not a big-game hunter. I've made that very clear. I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter.
    Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then. More than two times." -- Mitt Romney, failing.
    "Corporations are people, too, my friend." -- Romney
    "Maybe I should tell my story. I'm also unemployed." -- Romney, forgetting his $500,000 a year in speaking fees.
    "He grabbed my shoulder, and I was like 'boom get off of me.' The man assaulted me. I was protecting myself." -- Rapper Sky Blu of LMFAO, describing a tussle with Romney in the first class section of an airplane.
    "I have always felt that [the White Horse Prophecy] meant that sometime the question of whether we are going to proceed on the basis of the Constitution would arise and at this point government leaders who were Mormons would be involved in answering that question." -- George Romney
    "I haven't heard my name associated with it [the White Horse Prophecy] or anything of that nature. That's not official church doctrine. There are a lot of things that are speculation and discussion by church members and even church leaders that aren't official church doctrine. I don't put that at the heart of my religious belief." - Romney, not really denying anything
    "[I don't follow NASCAR] as closely as some of the most ardent fans. But I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners." - Romney
    “I was a severely conservative Republican governor. I fought against long odds in a deep blue state.” -- Romney, protesting too much.
    "He is the most intellectually dishonest human being in the history of politics." - Barney Frank, former congressman from Massaschusetts
    "I'm a normal person.I have emotions." -- Mitt Romney, protesting too much.
    "“I’m not in favor of his religion by any means. But he [L. Ron Hubbard] wrote a book called ‘Battlefield Earth’ that was a very fun science-fiction book.” - Romney

    -- Quote Sources

    Out of Touch

    It's not just that Mitt Romney is incredibly rich with ill-gotten money -- though he certainly is that. Earning about $380,000 puts you in the top 1% of American earners. Romney makes that every WEEK. But the real problem is that -- unlike, say, Newt Gingrich or Bill Clinton or Barack Obama who started poor and got rich -- Romney has lived in a strange bubble of wealth for his entire life. He simply doesn't know what it's like to live as a normal person.
    He tries hard to hide this -- way too hard -- but glimpses alip through all the time: offering to bet Rick Perry $10,000 (who has $10,000?), insisting that he has had to worry about pink slips (with $250 million stashed away, much of it in the tax-sheltered Cayman Islands, calling $347,000 earned in one year by giving speeches "not much", offering a $1.5 million reward for the "consulting" invoices Newt submitted to his lobbyist boss at Freddie Mac. (Hey, Mitt, I get that it's the amount Newt made, but most hired killers get around $10,000 for a job that invites the death penalty, so a million and a half might be kind of overkill for some paperwork.) Romney spent $42 million dollars of his own money running for president in 2008, and it barely made a dent in his fortune.
    Now, some people are exaggerating his wealth. He does not have 15 homes -- now. That's how many he has ever owned, and many of us have owned a few if you count every time we move as owning another house. He only has two main houses now, and he sold his ski chalet. And while it's true that Romney is tearing down his $12 million mansion in Country Club, California to build one 3 1/2 times larger (11,000 SF) on the same land, his other house on a lake in New Hampshire is only worth $10 million. And come one, we all know that most of the value of expensive houses is in the land anyway. So, pretty much like any other struggling family.
    But incidents keep happening, like when a young boy gave him an origami-folded $1 bill, and it took Romney a couple of minutes digging through his wallet to find anything smaller than a $100 bill. Or when he told a crowd, ""I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re going to get fired,. There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip." But, pressed by reporters, he couldn't name any such time. Or the time he got into an altercation with rapper Sky Blu of LMFAO, up in first class, when Mr. Blu (sitting in front of Romney) reclined his seat before takeoff, leading Romney to yell at him. -- Sources

    For Seamus: Putting his dog on the roof

    Mitt Romney drove his family on a 12 hour run to Canada in 1983 -- and put his dog on the roof, in a dog-carrier. Now, the family swears that poor Seamus LOVED it -- which might even be believeable, it's just like a dog sticking his head out the window and enjoying the fresh air, but more so, right? Except for the REST OF THE STORY.
    While they were driving, Romney's oldest son Tagg noticed a brown liquid running down the window of the car. That's right, Seamus was making it very clear to the family that he was not enjoying his view perch.
    But that's still not the weirdest part of the story. Mitt Romney pulled the car over, got a hose, and washed down the car and the dog. Fair enough. But then he put the dog back on the roof and drove the rest of the way!! That's the kind of cold, heartless logic that made Mitt so good at carnivorous capitalism.
    Now (February 2012) there's a new twist. Romney has always insisted the dog loved riding on top of the car (despite the fact that he defecated himself, and Mrs. Romney told reporters that Seamus "lived to a ripe old age." But the New York Observer reports that two of Romneys' sons told reporters, off the record, that Seamus actually ran away when they got to Canada. The Romney campaign has no comment. -- Sources

    Ill-Gotten Gains

    Mitt Romney was born rich -- his dad was the the CEO of American Motors, and later governor of Michigan -- but Mitt got much richer by through ill-gotten gains. In some cases, the companies that he ran made him rich through outright fraud and criminal behavior, but most of the time he it was his technically legal predatory capitalism at Bain & Co.-- leveraged buyouts, taking over companies by borrowing against their own assets, stripping them of resources, firing workers, busting unions and getting rid of workers' pensions. Meanwhile, he himself gets a multimillion dollar annual pension from Bain, which he pays minimal taxes on due to tax shelters and hiding his money in shady, foreign tax havens (such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, and Swiss bank accounts) that have extreme secrecy.
    In fact, Romney moved many of Bain's investment funds to the Cayman Islands or Bermuda, and has somewhere between $13 million and $33 million of his $250 million fortune hidden there. He earns more than $1 million per year just in the interest, dividends and capital gains from these tax haven funds. Romney is earning extraordinary returns on these funds -- 20% to 30%, according to Brad Malt, the manager of his trust.
    Romney fiercely resisted releasing his tax returns, and then only released one year -- 2010 -- when it looked like he might lose the presidential race if he didn't. This, even though his dad George Romney started the practice of politicians releasing tax returns in the first place, when he ran for president in the 1960s. Since Mitt has been running for President since 2006, he had plenty of time to make sure that one year looked good. Now we have an idea why he didn't release any returns earlier. Because even that one, carefully prepared year has plenty of dangerous items. It revealed his overseas secret bank accounts, and his low overall tax rate of under 15%. But there's worse.
    Romney was also required to file a financial disclosure form, less detailed than taxes, when he filed for president. In fact, he argued that he should have to release his taxes because the disclosure form showed everything important. But 23 different investment funds shown on his taxes did not appear on his disclosure form -- and 11 of those are in those overseas, secret banking centers. That's a sign of what he's embarrassed to reveal -- and it's also a felony, if the government can prove it was deliberate and not just a sloppy oversight.
    The biggest concern is that Swiss bank account, one of the items not on his financial disclosure. Mitt had it from 2003 to 2010, when his adviser shut it down. He closed it in the middle of an amnesty that the IRS had declared for owners of previously unreported Swiss bank accounts -- if they came clean, they would not face criminal prosecution for not reporting it in previous years (which was illegal - plus most weren't paying taxes on that money). Was the sudden shutdown of Romney's secret Swiss bank account part of this amnesty program? We can't know unless and until he releases prior returns, like his dad who released 12 years of prior returns. And Mitt is still fiercely refusing to do so.
    Note: Bain Capital was not "venture capital" investment, as many news stories have incorrectly said. That's an essential part of new company formation in today's economy. Romney practiced what is known as "private equity" takeovers, the kind of leveraged buyouts that Kolberg, Kravis and Roberts are infamous for. -- Sources

    Phony "Varmint" Hunter

    Back when he was liberal, Romney supported the Brady Bill, assault weapons bans and Massachusetts' very strict gun control law. Now that he's a conservative Republican, Romney has claimed that the NRA endorsed him in previous campaigns. (Oops -- that was easily proven to be a lie. His Democratic opponent actually had a better NRA rating.)
    He also claimed he was a "lifetime hunter" back in 2007, though he didn't own a gun, has never had a hunting license and had only joined the NRA in August 2006 -- as a "Lifetime Member" -- just about exactly the moment he started campaigning for President. ("Lifetime Member" means you pay a lot of extra money, and don't have to renew your membership each year.)
    When pressed on that, his "lifelong hunting" turned out to be a total of two hunts -- one as a teenager, hunting rabbits with his cousin in Idaho, and one just about the time he started running for president, chasing fenced-in quail at a Republican fundraising event.
    His explanation was even funnier -- "I'm not a BIG-GAME hunter. I've made that very clear," he said. "I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then. More than two times."
    This year (2012), he claimed again that he was a big hunter, claiming he had hunted moose in Montana. No wait, make that elk. "I'm not a serious hunter, but I must admit, I guess I enjoy the sport and when I get invited I'm delighted to be able to go hunting." Sure. He's DELIGHTED to go varmint hunting. If you will. it's FRIGHTFULLY fun, n'est ce pas? -- Sources

    Predatory Capitalism

    Romney brags about his business success, but the vast majority of his money comes from technically legal, completely predatory and unethical business pillaging. He was very successful at leveraged buyouts -- not investing in new companies, but using borrowed money to buy established companies, strip them of resources, and quickly sell them for a profit. How can you make money off a company that fails, you might ask? It's simple -- have it borrow a lot of money and give it to you, take its pension money and any cash in the bank, then sell it or take it public, quickly before it goes bankrupt. If you sell when the economy is good, people will go for it, and you get rich. Sure, a lot of people lose their jobs, and other people lose their money, but you're rich!
    The most famous example is an office supply company called American Pad and Paper. Romney and Bain Capital bought it from Mead Company, when it had total debts of $11 million. By the time they sold it, the company had $400 million in debt -- and Bain had earned $100 million off the deals, between fees it charged the company for managing it and for buying other companies, and profits from selling the company's stock after they took it public (for yet another fee). Bain was later sued by stockholders for fraud in overstating the value of the company. -- Sources

    Medicare Fraud That Made Him Rich

    In 1989, Romney led Bain Capital's purchase of Damon Corp., a medical testing company, and took a seat on the Board of Directors to better manage it. During Romney's four years, Bain tripled its investment, and Romney personally made $473,000 -- while Damon plumped its profits with Medicare fraud (running thousands of medical tests doctors didn't want, and billing Medicare for them). The company pled guilty to crimes committed during his tenure and paid a record fine of $119 million. Company President Joseph Isola pleaded no contest to fraud, and a vice president was also convicted.
    Romney claims he "uncovered" the fraudulent claims and "took corrective action," but court records show that he did not notify prosecutors or stop the fraudulent billing. He just asked company lawyers what changes they could make to avoid prosecution, after the feds' LABSCAM prosecution targeted a different medical testing firm. The cheating continued, prosecutors say, until the day Bain sold the company to Corning. Furthermore, Damon Corp. was required to list in various SEC filings any significant legal risks it faced. Romney made no mention of the fraud he "uncovered," even though it led to a $119 million fine, the largest in history. Damon Corp. is another Bain acquisition that later went bankrupt, killing over a thousand jobs -- but not before Bain made $7.4 million in profit. By amazing coincidence, Rick Santorum also made a lot of money off of a company involved in Medicare fraud: Universal Health Care. -- Sources

    Hired Illegal Immigrants

    Romney makes a big issue of being tough on illegal immigrants. He has pushed for a wall on the Mexican border so hard that Bill O'Reilly offered to call it the "Mitt Romney Memorial Wall."
    The only problem is, Romney has hired illegal immigrants to tend his gardens for over 10 years. Three illegal immigrants interviewed by the Boston Globe said they have worked on Romney's lawn for years, that he greets them with a "Buenos dias", and that his wife was friendly and often asks how they are. Two were interviewed back in Guatemala, where they have returned. They made $8 to $9 per hour working 11 hour days. "They wanted that house to look really nice," said one worker, now back in Copado, Guatemala. "It took a long time." The other, Rene Alvarez Rosales (now in Suchitepequez, Guatemala) said it cost him about $5,000 to have a smuggler take him across the border.
    They all work for "Community Lawn Care with a Heart," a small company run by legal Colombian immigrant Ricardo Saenz. Asked about his workers' statements that they were illegal immigrants, Saenz said "What you've heard is not my problem. ... I don't need to tell them to show me documents. I know who they are, and they are legal." When Romney was asked about the workers, he said "Aw geez" and walked away. On one occasion, a (real) state trooper with the Romney security detail asked about the workers' immigration status. Saenz said they were legal but forgot their papers that day, and the matter was dropped. -- Sources

    Flat-Out Liar

    In his 2008 presidential campaign, Romney simply lied repeatedly while trying to reinvent himself as a conservative. For example:
    -- "I have a gun of my own."
    (Not true. He was talking about a gun one of his grown sons own.)
    -- "I've been a hunter pretty much my entire life."
    (He hunted once at 15, and a second time in his late 50s.)
    -- "I told you what my position was, and what I, what I did as governor; the fact that I received the endorsement of the NRA."
    (No - and his Democratic opponent actually had a higher NRA rating)
    -- "I saw my father march with Martin Luther King."
    (No, they never marched together. They were both in Michigan at the same time once, but Mitt was in France on his mission.)
    -- "My father and I marched with Martin Luther King Jr. through the streets of Detroit."
    (even more false...)
    This last lie was the funnest because of all the waffling that Romney did trying to explain it. After a Boston newspaper showed that they couldn't have marched together, Mitt's spokesman said that "George W. Romney and Martin Luther King Jr. marched together in June, 1963 -- although possibly not on the same day or in the same city." And Mitt then explained "I've tried to be as accurate as I can be. If you look at the literature or look at the dictionary, the term 'saw' includes being aware of — in the sense I've described. I'm an English literature major as well. When we say I saw the Patriots win the World Series, it doesn't necessarily mean you were there -- excuse me, the Super Bowl. I saw my dad become president of American Motors. Did that mean you were there for the ceremony? No, it’s a figure of speech." -- Sources

    Draft Dodger and Chickenhawk

    Mitt Romney, incredibly, was able to avoid serving in Vietnam because he was on his Mormon mission, driving around the French countryside. (The Mormon church defined missions -- which all good young Mormon men go on -- as a form of priesthood.) In fact, not one of Romney's five sons has served in the military either, despite Mitt arguing for U.S. military involvement in Iraq and elsewhere.
    Even more outrageously, when he was asked to justify this hypocrisy, Romney claimed that his sons were serving the country by driving Winnebagos around Iowa and campaigning for him.
    -- Sources

    Top Aide Illegally Impersonating Police Officers

    The most bizarre scandal of Romney's 2008 campaign involved Jay Garrity, Mitt's director of operations (basically, his right-hand man.) Garrity resigned from the campaign after several allegations that he claimed to be a policeman, and used that authority to intimidate people.
    In one case, Garrity pulled over a New York Times reporter, ran his plates and ordered him to stop following the campaign caravan. In another, he allegedly called a plumbing company to complain about one of their employees, whose driving upset him, and identified himself as "Trooper Garrity of the Massachusetts State Police." Garrity denied that allegation, but he was cited by Boston police in 2004 for having police equipment -- including flashing lights -- in his Crown Victoria sedan without authorization. The phone call was recorded because an answering service actually fielded the call, which the person who called himself "Trooper Garrity" apparently didn't notice.
    Despite his resignation, Garrity remains under investigation in two states for impersonation of police.
    Well, it gets worse. According to three different anonymous sources, one who works for the Romney campaign, Garrity made up fake police badges -- bright silver plates with the seal of Massachusetts on them -- and gave them to several other staffers, who used them to order reporters and other people out of events, get past security guards, and avoid paying highway tolls. In fact, Garrity has been handing out badges since Romney was governor of Massachusetts.
    So this was not just one staffer's personal fetish. Sources named at least two other Romney staffers who used the badges -- Mark Glanville and William Ritter. "They knew the badges were fake and probably illegal," the campaign source said. In fact, Garrity was Romney's right-hand man and rarely left his side. It's hard to believe that Mitt Romney himself did not notice the fact that Garrity was constantly flashing a police badge as they blew through security into various events. The Romney campaign has not commented on whether Mitt Romney knew about the badges.
    Using fake badges is, of course, illegal.
    -- Sources

    White Horse Prophecy:
    The White Horse Prophecy, The Relief Mine website, Sunday, 09 March 2008
    "Romney candidacy has resurrected last days prophecy of Mormon saving the Constitution", by Thomas Burr, The Salt Lake Tribune, 06/04/2007
    The White Horse Prophecy, research paper by George Cobabe, FAIR (a Mormon apologetics organization), 2011
    White Horse Prophecy, MormonWiki, viewed January 18, 2012

    " Did Mitt Romney’s Dog Seek Asylum In Canada?, by Hunter Walker, The New York Observer: Politicker NY, 1/31/2012
    Seamus -- dog on a roof sources -- Back

    What our fascination with Mitt Romney’s dog Seamus says about our culture, By Neil Swidey, BOSTON GLOBE MAGAZINE, January 08, 2012

    Out of Touch Sources -- Back
    Romney to quadruple La Jolla home size, by Christopher Cadelago, San Diego Union Tribune, August 20, 2011
    Romney Paid 13.9% Tax Rate on $21.6 Million in 2010, By Richard Rubin, Bloomberg News Service, Jan 24, 2012
    Sky Blue -- LMFAO's Sky Blu and Mitt Romney Scuffle on Flight to L.A.", By Daniel Kreps, Rolling Stone magazine, February 19, 2010
    Romney Camp Offers ‘Reward’ For Missing Newt Freddie Mac Docs, by Thomas Lane, Talking Points Memo, January 24, 2012
    Mitt Romney's Most Out-of-Touch Moments, by Julian Brookes, Rolling Stone magazine, January 12, 2012
    Misleading Readers on Romney’s “$12 Million Teardown”: The value is almost all in the land, By Ryan Chittum, Columbia Journalism Review, January 12, 2012
    Romney's $12 Million Tear-Down: His Small Way To Boost Housing Sector?, by Frank James, NPR News, August 22, 2011
    Ill-Gotten Gains Sources -- Back

    "Island tax havens factor into Romney's business success", by Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2007
    "Romney Parks Millions in Cayman Islands," by MATTHEW MOSK, BRIAN ROSS and MEGAN CHUCHMACH, ABC-News: The Blotter, Jan. 18, 2012
    Romney Conference Call: Why Did Romney's Trustee Close The Swiss Bank Account? by Pema Levy, Talking Points Memo, January 24, 2012
    Romney tax returns detail funds not identified in ethics forms by Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2012
    Predatory Capitalism Sources -- Back

    Plenty of 'pitting' preceded Romney's profits, By Robert Gavin and Sacha Pfeiffer, the Boston Globe (reprinted in the Utah Deseret News), July 3 2007 "Fake Cop Sources" -- Back
    "Romney aide, targeted in probe, takes leave of absence", by Stephanie Ebbert, Boston Globe, June 22, 2007
    "Romney aide’s bogus badges: Sources detail ‘illegal’ security tactic"",By Casey Ross, Boston Herald, July 20, 2007
    "Romney Aide Resigns",By Sarah Wheaton, New York Times -- The Caucus Blog, July 21, 2007
    "Liar Sources" -- Back
    "Romney Aims Again to Explain Hunting -- Republican Presidential Hopeful Romney Takes Second Shot at Explaining His Hunting Experience", by Emily Udell, Associated Press on ABC-News web site, April 6, 2007
    "Guns, trust, and Romney, By Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe, April 8, 2007
    "The Trail: Romney Claims NRA Endorsement He Didn't Receive," by Michael D. Shear, Washington Post, December 16, 2007
    "Did Romney Actually See His Dad March With MLK?", by Scott Conroy, CBS-News website, December 20, 2007, 2:03 PM
    "Romney never saw father on King march - Defends figurative words; evidence contradicts story", by Michael Levenson, Boston Globe, December 21, 2007
    Medicare Fraud Sources -- Back
    Plenty of 'pitting' preceded Romney's profits, By Robert Gavin and Sacha Pfeiffer, the Boston Globe (reprinted in the Utah Deseret News), July 3 2007
    Romney Supervised Medical Testing Company Guilty Of Massive Medicare Fraud, by Rick Ungar, Forbes Magazine, 1/21/2012
    Romney profited on firm later tied to fraud, by Frank Phillips, Boston Globe, 10/10/2002 "Hunting Sources" -- Back
    "Romney Aims Again to Explain Hunting -- Republican Presidential Hopeful Romney Takes Second Shot at Explaining His Hunting Experience", by Emily Udell, Associated Press on ABC-News web site, April 6, 2007
    "Guns, trust, and Romney, By Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe, April 8, 2007
    "The Trail: Romney Claims NRA Endorsement He Didn't Receive," by Michael D. Shear, Washington Post, December 16, 2007
    "Romney Hunting License", WIBW-TV News, Jan 18, 2012
    "Illegal Immigrant Sources" -- Back
    "Romney aide is the focus of probe - Allegedly acted as State Police trooper", By Stephanie Ebbert and Scott Helman, Boston Globe, June 22, 2007
    "Illegal immigrants toiled for governor: Guatemalans say firm hired them", by Jonathan Saltzman, Maria Cramer and Connie Page, Boston Globe, December 1, 2006
    "Romney's lawn firm draws new scrutiny: Massport, Chelsea eye workers' legal status", By Jonathan Saltzman and Maria Cramer, the Boston Globe, December 2, 2006
    Quote Sources -- Back
    "Ann Romney Criticized for Cancer Comment "ABC-News Political Radar, July 31, 2007
    Sky Blue -- LMFAO's Sky Blu and Mitt Romney Scuffle on Flight to L.A.", By Daniel Kreps, Rolling Stone magazine, February 19, 2010
    The Big Money", by Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, January 17, 2012
    Congressman Frank blasts the ‘real Romney’, Boston Herald, Monday, June 11th, 2007
    White horse quote -- "Romney candidacy has resurrected last days prophecy of Mormon saving the Constitution", by Thomas Burr, The Salt Lake Tribune, 06/04/2007
    NASCAR: Romney: I have friends who own NASCAR teams By Sarah B. Boxer, CBS News, February 26, 2012
    severely conservative -- Appealing to Activists, Romney Calls Himself ‘Severely Conservative’ By MICHAEL D. SHEAR, New York Times, February 10, 2012
    "Candidate Has Another Teary Moment", By Michael Levenson, Boston Globe, December 19, 2007
    "Romney Favors Hubbard Novel" by Jim Rutenberg, New York Times Caucus Blog, April 30, 2007

    Monday, October 22, 2012

    The U.S. Postal Service: FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

    It seems that 2011 has been a year spent on the brink. Since January, Americans have faced the looming threat of a government shutdown, a national default, and now, the possibility of a collapse of the U.S. Postal Service. Last Tuesday, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe warned Congress that the longtime service was on the verge of default. September 30 is the deadline for the agency to make a $5.5 billion payment into a fund to cover health care for future retirees. Without immediate assistance from Congress, Donahoe said, the USPS could default on its payment and be out of money by next year, forcing it to shut down all operations.
    A bill currently in Congress would extend the payment deadline by three months, but the USPS is in need of rapid and drastic restructuring to remain financially viable in the future. While Congress and the Obama administration continue to hash out those plans, here are five things you need to know:
    1. The USPS is not technically “broke” — yet.
    Operationally speaking, the USPS nets profits every year. The financial problem it faces now comes from a 2006 Congressional mandate that requires the agency to “pre-pay” into a fund that covers health care costs for future retired employees. Under the mandate, the USPS is required to make an annual $5.5 billion payment over ten years, through 2016. These “prepayments” are largely responsible for the USPS’s financial losses over the past four years and the threat of shutdown that looms ahead – take the retirement fund out of the equation, and the postal service would have actually netted $1 billion in profits over this period.
    This doesn’t mean, however, that the USPS’s financial situation is good. Revenue has been declining for years, and even if the agency  manages to get past this year’s $5.5 billion payment, it would again face insolvency next year.
    2. The postal service doesn’t rely on taxpayer funds.
    Until 1971, mail delivery was handled by the Post Office Department, a Cabinet department in the federal government. Postal worker strikes prompted President Nixon to pass the Postal Reorganization Act in 1971, transforming it into the semi-independent agency we now know as the United States Postal Service. The USPS in its current form runs like a business, relies on postage for revenue and, for the most part, has not used taxpayer money since 1982, when postage stamps became “products” instead of forms of taxation. Taxpayer money is only used in some cases to pay for mailing voter materials to disabled and overseas Americans.
    USPS spokespersons have been adamant in emphasizing that they are not requesting taxpayer funds from the federal government to make this year’s payment. Rather, they say, the USPS is asking Congress to authorize access to an estimated $7 billion that they overpaid into the future retiree pension fund in previous years.
    3. Junk mail sustains the system.
    Although the USPS does manage to turn a profit based on operations alone, it’s a widely known fact that mail volume has dipped over the past decade. As Americans by and large correspond and pay bills online, first-class mail and, as a result, postal revenue have gone into a decline. From 2006 to 2010, mail volume decreased by a hefty 20 percent.
    But although the days of custom stationery, handwritten letters and scented envelopes may be long gone, the USPS has been increasingly reliant on junk mail — advertisements, catalogs and other unsolicited mailbox “gifts” — to keep the service afloat. BusinessWeek notes that revenue from junk mail increased by 7.1 percent in the last quarter of 2010 – although volume has not increased since. Donahoe has also expressed optimism that junk mail volume and revenue will increase as the economy improves. But the lower cost of direct mailings means that more junk mail is needed to circulate in the system to make up for the accelerating loss of first-class mail.
    4. The proposed cuts are big.
    In his testimony last week, Donahoe presented a number of measures that he argues would halt the USPS’s rapid financial decline, including the elimination of the annual pre-fund payment requirement, stopping Saturday mail delivery and terminating a “no-layoff” clause in a contract with unionized postal workers. According to Donahoe, cutting service down to five days a week instead of six, a proposal that has been kicked around for years, would save about $3 billion a year. Donahoe has also urged Congress to allow him to shut down standalone post offices, moving them into convenience stores and supermarkets instead.
    Of course, these proposals have been met with resistance, not least by postal workers who stand to lose their jobs, as well as direct mailers, the creators of the junk mail that sustains the system, who argue that Saturday deliveries are crucial times for sending advertisements while recipients have their minds on weekend shopping. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) has also argued that ending Saturday delivery could drive mail-order pharmacies and other businesses away from the USPS, further accelerating its losses.
    Other critics say that simply cutting services isn’t enough, and that the real solution is figuring out a way to reinvent the postal service to meet the needs of our wired world. But how?
    5. Europe could be the model for USPS 2.0.
    To see just how the USPS can transform itself, some analysts have turned to European countries to observe what can be done differently. In a May cover story for BusinessWeek, journalist Devin Leonard reported on the kinds of models that have emerged in Sweden, Germany and Finland. The Swedish service, Posten, and Germany’s Deutsche Post have minimized their participation in the national postal market, allowing them to work as smaller and more streamlined organizations. Posten runs only 12 percent of Sweden’s post offices, while Deutsche Post runs 2 percent of those in Germany – the rest are handled by other businesses. The U.S., in contrast, runs all of the post offices in the country.
    It also seems that European postal systems have been experimenting with services for its Internet customers, as well. From BusinessWeek:
    Many used their extra cash to create digital mail products that allow customers to send and receive letters from their computers. Itella, the Finnish postal service, keeps a digital archive of its users’ mail for seven years and helps them pay bills online securely. Swiss Post lets customers choose if they want their mail delivered at home in hard copy or scanned and sent to their preferred Internet-connected device. Customers can also tell Swiss Post if they would rather not receive items such as junk mail.
    Sweden’s Posten has an app that lets customers turn digital photos on their mobile phones into postcards. It is unveiling a service that will allow cell-phone users to send letters without stamps. Posten will text them a numerical code that they can jot down on envelopes in place of a stamp for a yet-to-be-determined charge.
    These European postal services, however, have the financial leeway to experiment with digital services that our USPS currently does not — and the jury is still out on whether those services are profitable. But if Congress is able to figure out a way soon to get the USPS back on its feet, it will open the doors for the postal service to catch up to the 21st-century society it serves.