Stewardship

Isn’t it great that corporations get to do pretty much anything they want? At least they have to drink this water, too:

Over the past several decades, U.S. industries have injected more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid deep into the earth, using broad expanses of the nation’s geology as an invisible dumping ground.


No company would be allowed to pour such dangerous chemicals into the rivers or onto the soil. But until recently, scientists and environmental officials have assumed that deep layers of rock beneath the earth would safely entomb the waste for millennia.


There are growing signs they were mistaken.


Records from disparate corners of the United States show that wells drilled to bury this waste deep beneath the ground have repeatedly leaked, sending dangerous chemicals and waste gurgling to the surface or, on occasion, seeping into shallow aquifers that store a significant portion of the nation’s drinking water.


In 2010, contaminants from such a well bubbled up in a west Los Angeles dog park. Within the past three years, similar fountains of oil and gas drilling waste have appeared in Oklahoma and Louisiana. In South Florida, 20 of the nation’s most stringently regulated disposal wells failed in the early 1990s, releasing partly treated sewage into aquifers that may one day be needed to supply Miami’s drinking water.


There are more than 680,000 underground waste and injection wells nationwide, more than 150,000 of which shoot industrial fluids thousands of feet below the surface. Scientists and federal regulators acknowledge they do not know how many of the sites are leaking.


Federal officials and many geologists insist that the risks posed by all this dumping are minimal. Accidents are uncommon, they say, and groundwater reserves 2014 from which most Americans get their drinking water 2014 remain safe and far exceed any plausible threat posed by injecting toxic chemicals into the ground.


But in interviews, several key experts acknowledged that the idea that injection is safe rests on science that has not kept pace with reality, and on oversight that doesn’t always work.


“In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted,” said Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program in Washington. “A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.”

Schilling

It’s always intrigued me that people who are very successful in one area believe that success validates their judgment in every other area. Classic case in point: Curt Schilling. And now, of course, he blames the government for his own lack of business sense.

How municipal bond dealers robbed Americans of billions

Matt Taibbi does a real nice job on a topic that has been my own obsession for decades: Municipal bonds. Bonds are where all the political kickbacks and thievery have always been hidden, and the despicable thing is, regular people lose real, tangible things as a result, yet are none the wiser.

I remember years ago, I attended a charity banquet at a local hospital, and someone running for county council came over and said, “I was told I should come over and introduce myself to you.” He then proceeded to talk about what wonderful things he did for charities, and what a humble man he was. I stopped him: “I’m sure you’re very nice to your wife and family, and I’m sure your dog loves you. But you’re a municipal bond dealer, and that’s really all I need to know about you.”

He protested. “My firm won’t be bidding on any business with the county if I’m elected.” (Of course he was going to be elected; he was a Republican in a GOP-controlled county.) I looked at him. “Mr. N., you and I both know that all your firm has to do is rubber stamp another firm’s deal, and they’ll do the same for you. It’s corrupt and it costs the taxpayers money.” (Requiring approval from another firm is supposed to make sure the deal is fairly priced. Hah!)

After the banquet, he made a point of letting me know he was taking all the leftover food to a homeless shelter. It reminded me of those old Mafia guys who built all those magnificent churches in South Philly, presumably to buy their way into heaven.

All this corruption is hidden by many layers, helped along by the fact that – surprise, surprise – things like bond deals are exempt from public bid. So I’m very hopeful that this trial will put at least a little fear into these pinstriped scum:

Someday, it will go down in history as the first trial of the modern American mafia. Of course, you won’t hear the recent financial corruption case, United States of America v. Carollo, Goldberg and Grimm called anything like that. If you heard about it at all, you’re probably either in the municipal bond business or married to an antitrust lawyer. Even then, all you probably heard was that a threesome of bit players on Wall Street got convicted of obscure antitrust violations in one of the most inscrutable, jargon-packed legal snoozefests since the government’s massive case against Microsoft in the Nineties – not exactly the thrilling courtroom drama offered by the famed trials of old-school mobsters like Al Capone or Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo.

But this just-completed trial in downtown New York against three faceless financial executives really was historic. Over 10 years in the making, the case allowed federal prosecutors to make public for the first time the astonishing inner workings of the reigning American crime syndicate, which now operates not out of Little Italy and Las Vegas, but out of Wall Street.

The defendants in the case – Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg and Peter Grimm – worked for GE Capital, the finance arm of General Electric. Along with virtually every major bank and finance company on Wall Street – not just GE, but J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, UBS, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Wachovia and more – these three Wall Street wiseguys spent the past decade taking part in a breathtakingly broad scheme to skim billions of dollars from the coffers of cities and small towns across America. The banks achieved this gigantic rip-off by secretly colluding to rig the public bids on municipal bonds, a business worth $3.7 trillion. By conspiring to lower the interest rates that towns earn on these investments, the banks systematically stole from schools, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes – from “virtually every state, district and territory in the United States,” according to one settlement. And they did it so cleverly that the victims never even knew they were being ­cheated. No thumbs were broken, and nobody ended up in a landfill in New Jersey, but money disappeared, lots and lots of it, and its manner of disappearance had a familiar name: organized crime.

In fact, stripped of all the camouflaging financial verbiage, the crimes the defendants and their co-conspirators committed were virtually indistinguishable from the kind of thuggery practiced for decades by the Mafia, which has long made manipulation of public bids for things like garbage collection and construction contracts a cornerstone of its business. What’s more, in the manner of old mob trials, Wall Street’s secret machinations were revealed during the Carollo trial through crackling wiretap recordings and the lurid testimony of cooperating witnesses, who came into court with bowed heads, pointing fingers at their accomplices. The new-age gangsters even invented an elaborate code to hide their crimes. Like Elizabethan highway robbers who spoke in thieves’ cant, or Italian mobsters who talked about “getting a button man to clip the capo,” on tape after tape these Wall Street crooks coughed up phrases like “pull a nickel out” or “get to the right level” or “you’re hanging out there” – all code words used to manipulate the interest rates on municipal bonds. The only thing that made this trial different from a typical mob trial was the scale of the crime.
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Bullies

If my kids did to that old woman what these kids did, I’d think of some really creative way to get my point across, like marching them to the nearest old age home and making them volunteer. This is just disgusting. I don’t think my kids would have done something like that, though, because they weren’t allowed to talk to me like that. I see far too many kids whose parents allow them to interact on that smart-ass level, and it’s all I can do not to reach out and smack them — all of them, parents included. “Oh what can I do, I can’t stop them!” Bullshit. Unless you have a kid with some kind of serious mental illness, the simple fact is, you have raised an asshole. An asshole is someone who thinks of himself as the center of the universe and has little to no empathy for anyone else.

People might not like to hear this, but I believe kids are animals and need to be trained into social behavior – or they simply conform to the Animal Farm rules of their peer pack. If you’re not doing that job (again, except under extreme circumstances), you’re not a good parent. Parents who grant their kids’ every wish? You’re raising an asshole. Parents who let their kids bully them into giving them what they demand? You’re raising an asshole. Parents who constantly tell their kids how wonderful and special they are? Raising an asshole.

Don’t even get me started on the “I can’t get my kids to go to bed/sleep in their own room” crowd. When did parents turn into such wimps? I’m pretty mild-mannered, but as I often told my kids, “When I was a little kid, all the grownups got to boss me around. And now that I’m a grownup, I’ll be damned if I let kids boss me around.”

What do you think? Overreacting or not? Are we officially old farts of the “these kids today!” variety?

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