April 26, 2012


By Paul Conner - The Daily Caller
PLEASANTON, CA - JUNE 23: A young girl tries to pet a cow in the livestock barn at the Alameda County Fair on June 23, 2011 in Pleasanton, California. The Alameda County Fair is celebrating its 99th year and features rides, farm animals, carnival food, horse racing and pig races. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Under pressure from farming advocates in rural communities, and following a report by The Daily Caller, the Obama administration withdrew a proposed rule Thursday that would have applied child labor laws to family farms.
Critics complained that the regulation would have drastically changed the extent to which children could work on farms owned by family members. The U.S. Department of Labor cited public outcry as the reason for withdrawing the rule.
“The decision to withdraw this rule — including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption’ — was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms,” the Department said in a press release Thursday evening. “To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”
The rule would have dramatically changed what types of chores children under the age of 16 could perform on and around American farms. It would have prohibited them from working with tobacco, operating almost all types of power-driven equipment and being employed to work with raw farm materials.
“Prohibited places of employment would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions,” read a press release from last August.
“I am pleased to hear the Obama Administration is finally backing away from its absurd 85-page proposal to block youth from participating in family farm activities and ultimately undermine the very fabric of rural America, but I will continue working to ensure this overreaching proposal is completely and permanently put to rest,” said Sen. John Thune, Republican from South Dakota. “The Obama DOL’s youth farm labor rule is a perfect example of what happens when government gets too big.”
Parents and children who grew up on farms across the country told TheDC that the rule was overprotective and would have prevented kids from learning valuable skills at early ages.
“Losing that work ethic — it’s so hard to pick this up later in life,” said Kansas, Cherokee County, Kansas Farm Bureau president Jeff Clark. “There’s other ways to learn how to farm, but it’s so hard. You can learn so much more working on the farm when you’re 12, 13, 14 years old.”
Rep. Kristi Noem, Republican from South Dakota, also applauded the effort to scale back the rule.
“I want to thank every farmer, rancher and young person who joined many of us in Congress to speak out against this proposal, which would have fundamentally changed the way folks have been farming and ranching for generations,” she said in a statement. “I continue to agree that safety on farms and ranches is imperative, but telling kids they can’t do 4-H or farm-related chores is not the answer.”
The Daily Caller’s story about the proposed regulations quickly went viral on Wednesday, attracting hundreds of thousands of readers through Facebook, The Drudge Report and other online and social media platforms.


Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2012/04/26/amid-nationwide-outcry-labor-dept-withdraws-farm-child-labor-rule/#ixzz1tCdQXi7o

4/26/2012 @ 12:53AM |4,444 views

EPA Official Not Only Touted 'Crucifying' Oil Companies, He Tried It

Confirming what many in the industry long suspected, a video surfaced Wednesday in which Al Armendariz, an official at the Environmental Protection Agency, promotes the idea of crucifying oil companies. Armendariz heads up the EPA’s region 6 office, which is based in Dallas and responsible for oversight of Texas and surrounding states. The former professor atSouthern Methodist University was appointed by President Obama in November 2009.
In a talk to colleagues about methods EPA enforcement, Armendariz can be seen saying, “The Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”
And not only has Armendariz talked about crucifying oil companies, he’s tried to do it. In 2010 his office targeted Range Resources, a Fort Worth-based driller that was among the first to discover the potential of the Marcellus Shale gas field of Pennsylvania — the biggest gas field in America and one of the biggest in the world. Armendariz’s office declared in an emergency order that Range’s drilling activity had contaminated groundwater in Parker County, Texas. Armendariz’s office insisted that Range’s hydraulic fracking activity had caused the pollution and ordered Range to remediate the water. The EPA’s case against Range was catnip for the environmental fracktivists who insist with religious zealotry that fracking is evil. Range insisted from the beginning that there was no substance to the allegations.
The Armendriz video (which appears to have been taken off YouTube late late night) was shot around the same time he was preparing the action against Range. Here’s the highlights of what he said.
The Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.
And so you make examples out of people who are in this case not compliant with the law. Find people who are not compliant with the law, and you hit them as hard as you can and you make examples out of them, and there is a deterrent effect there. And, companies that are smart see that, they don’t want to play that game, and they decide at that point that it’s time to clean up.
And, that won’t happen unless you have somebody out there making examples of people. So you go out, you look at an industry, you find people violating the law, you go aggressively after them. And we do have some pretty effective enforcement tools. Compliance can get very high, very, very quickly.
That’s what these companies respond to is both their public image but also financial pressure. So you put some financial pressure on a company, you get other people in that industry to clean up very quickly.
The former professor at Southern Methodist University is a diehard environmentalist, having grown up in El Paso near a copper smelter that reportedly belched arsenic-laced clouds into the air. (Here’s a profile of him in the Dallas Observer.) Texas Monthly called him one of the 25 most powerful Texans, while the Houston Chronicle said he’s “the most feared environmentalist in the state.”
Nevermind that he couldn’t prove jack against Range. For a year and a half EPA bickered over the issue, both with Range and with the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas drilling and did its own scientific study of Range’s wells and found no evidence that they polluted anything. In recent months a federal judge slapped the EPA, decreeing that the agency was required to actually do some scientific investigation of wells before penalizing the companies that drilled them. Finally in March the EPA withdrew its emergency order and a federal court dismissed the EPA’s case.
David Porter, a commissioner on the Texas Railroad Commission, wasn’t impressed. “Today the EPA finally made a decision based on science and fact versus playing politics with the Texas economy. The EPA’s withdrawal of the emergency order against Range Resources upholds the Railroad Commission Final Order that I signed concluding that Range is not responsible for any water contamination in Parker County. Al Armendariz and the EPA’s Region Six office are guilty of fear mongering, gross negligence and severe mishandling of this case. I hope to see drastic changes made in the way the regional office conducts business in the future – starting with the termination of Al Armendariz.”
After an outcry emerged over the video on Wednesday, Armendariz apologized for his statements Wednesday night, reportedly saying: “I apologize to those I have offended and regret my poor choice of words. It was an offensive and inaccurate way to portray our efforts to address potential violations of our nation’s environmental laws. I am and have always been committed to fair and vigorous enforcement of those laws. ”
He ought to resign as well. His comments in the video are proof that facts and science don’t matter to him, that he’s already made up his mind that the industry he has regulatory power over is evil. When you lose faith in the impartiality of regulators every action they take is tainted. He’s the boy who cried wolf.


The Invisible Borders That Define American Culture

The Invisible Borders That Define American Culture
Samuel Arbesman
When we think about borders, we tend to think of administrative boundaries. Those demarcating lines, often grown out of rivers and mountain ranges or diplomatic quirks, govern our daily lives, and that’s doubly so if we live near a neighboring country or state.
We know that these boundaries are on some level unnatural. Driving around Kansas City, where I live, makes this abundantly clear. Gas price differences aside, it can be difficult to tell which state you’re in, Missouri or Kansas, and the small street of State Line Road does nothing to make it clearer.
But are there more organic borders, brought to life by our own actions and activities? I recently set out, along with a team from MIT and AT&T, to see if I could find an answer. Previously, members of our group had collaborated to use mobile phone call and text message records to determine how tightly connected different counties are to each other. But communication is far from the only way in which we are connected or separated. We can be connected based on where we move, how we speak, and even what sports teams we root for.
So our research team, consisting of DeDe Paul of AT&T, Vincent Blondel of Belgium’s Universit√© catholique de Louvain, and myself, set out to understand how a variety of cultural and social properties create borders, and whether or not these borders actually overlap. Are there in fact natural boundaries to the borders that we create as social creatures?
Let’s first examine the different borders we can define. We first have communication, from cell phone data. The map below, based on aggregated phone calls between counties, makes use of an algorithm we developed that detects communities within networks. The result is a visualization of highly connected counties, grouped together by color. These clusters of connected places sometimes coincide with political boundaries, but in many other cases do not.
Historically, communication and mobility were closely tied together; you could only interact directly with people in person. But with the advent of the telephone and the Internet, these two parts of human behavior have become disentangled. So, does mobility affect the borders we find?
Using data from IRS migration records—where people relocate to—we constructed a similar map, but this time based on mobility. In this case, we connected and grouped counties based on where people moved, rather than to whom they spoke. Instead of showing the different groupings, we have this time highlighted the borders between these regions.
We next combined the two maps, weighting the borders based on how often they are found to occur in both mobility and communication maps.
What we found is that, for the most part, there is a great deal of overlap between communication and mobility. This is especially clear in the South, where the border between Mississippi and Arkansas is present for all of the data. In other words, people in Mississippi (or Arkansas) primarily interact with others in their own state, and even tend to move only within the state. Despite all the technology at our disposal, in many ways we are still products of place.
So if there’s still a strong relationship between who we communicate with and the borders of where we live, does that also hold true for the words we use?
One of the clearest regional differences in the U.S. can found by tracking the words people use to refer to soft drinks, which is in fact the map you saw at the top of this story. Pop or soda, or even Coke, these small linguistic differences are not as small as we might think. While “soda” commands the Northeast and West Coast (green) and “pop” is in between (black), “Coke” reigns in the south (turquoise). These small distinctions can often act as touchstones for larger cultural differences.
We can also look at how different counties voted in the last presidential election (blue is Democratic and green is Republican, with Purple as missing data).
And we can even do sports! Below is a map of baseball blackout regions, the parts of the country where a team’s games are considered a local market and are subject to certain broadcasting conditions.

Map courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
So, between language, sports, mobility, communication, and even politics, are there any natural borders? Or does our complex nature make the boundaries that separate us also completely messy?
We combined several maps into one to see if any patterns emerged. At first glance, the result seems incredibly messy, although there are certain borders that do jump out (such as the Mississippi River, for example). But when we zoomed in on smaller regions, it was easier to pick out a few natural borders.
For example, New England is incontrovertibly a single region, connected by interaction, mobility, and culture. Similarly, certain states such as Texas and Kansas are their own distinctive regions.
On the other hand, New Jersey and California have a distinct bisection that divides them, though not always in the same way or place. For example, California is divided into Northern and Southern California, when we look at voice phone calls:
But it’s divided into three sections, when we use digital text message records:         
Similarly, we can do the same thing using sports affiliations to understand where Red Sox Nation ends and Yankees Nation begins. This classic New York Times graphic shows how Connecticut is bisected.
While we as humans are incredibly complicated organisms, there are a few simple rules to how we behave. We sort ourselves based on cultural similarities, and these in turn are related to how we choose to move from place to place, and even with whom we communicate.  A lot of these boundaries are porous and messy, allowing for a rich diversity of cultural flow. But knowing how we interact as part of a complex society, instead of only looking at political borders, can explain a lot more than we might have imagined.
Keywords: AmericaStatesGeographyBorders
Samuel Arbesman is a senior scholar at the Kauffman Foundation and a fellow at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. All posts »