Category Archives: Culture and Society

Culture and Society

Fine-grained silica sand is mixed with chemicals and water before being pumped into rock formations to prevent the newly created artificial fractures from closing after hydraulic fracturing is completed. Photographer: Bill Cunningham, USGS

Follow The Sand To The Real Fracking Boom – Analysis

By James Stafford

When it takes up to four million pounds of sand to frack a single well, it’s no wonder that demand is outpacing supply and frack sand producers are becoming the biggest behind-the-scenes beneficiaries of the American oil and gas boom.

Demand is exploding for “frac sand”–a durable, high-purity quartz sand used to help produce petroleum fluids and prop up man-made fractures in shale rock formations through which oil and gas flows—turning this segment into the top driver of value in the shale revolution.

“One of the major players in Eagle Ford is saying they’re short 6 million tons of 100 mesh alone in 2014 and they don’t know where to get it. And that’s just one player,” Rasool Mohammad, President and CEO of Select Sands Corporation told Oilprice.com.

Frack sand exponentially increases the return on investment for a well, and oil and gas companies are expected to use some 95 billion pounds of frack sand this year, up nearly 30% from 2013 and up 50% from forecasts made just last year.

Pushing demand up is the trend for wider, shorter fracs, which require twice as much sand. The practice of downspacing—or decreasing the space between wells—means a dramatic increase in the amount of frac sand used. The industry has gone from drilling four wells per square mile to up to 16 using shorter, wider fracs. In the process, they have found that the more tightly spaced wells do not reduce production from surrounding wells.

This all puts frac sand in the drivers’ seat of the next phase of the American oil boom, and it’s a commodity that has already seen its price increase up to 20% over the past year alone.

Frac sand is poised for even more significant gains over the immediate term, with long-term contracts locking in a lucrative future as exploration and production companies experiment with using even more sand per well.

Pioneer Natural Resources Inc. says the output of wells is up to 30% higher when they are blasted with more sand.

Citing RBC Capital Markets, The Wall Street Journal noted that approximately one-fifth of onshore wells are now being fracked with extra sand, while the trend could spread to 80% of all shale wells.

Oilfield services giants such as Halliburton Co. and Baker Hughes Inc. are stockpiling sand now, hoping to shield themselves from rising costs of the high-demand product, according to a recent Reuters report. They’re also buying more sand under contract—a trend that will lead to more long-term contracts and a longer-term boost for frac sand producers.

In this environment, the new game is about quality and location.

Frac sand extraction could spread to a dozen US states that have largely untapped sand deposits, but the biggest winners will be the biggest deposits that are positioned closest to major shale plays such as Eagle Ford, the Permian Basin, Barnett, Haynesville and the Tuscaloosa marine shale play.

The state of Wisconsin has been a major frac sand venue, with over 100 sand mines, loading and processing facilities permitted as of 2013, compared to only five sand mines and five processing plants in 2010.

But with the surge in demand for this product, companies are looking a bit closer to shale center to cut down on transportation costs and improve the bottom line.

One of the hottest new frac sand venues is in Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains, which is not only closer by half to the major shale plays, saving at least 25% per ton on transportation costs, but also allows for year-round production that will fill the gap in shortages when winter prevents mining in northern states.

“In the southern US, we can operate year round, so there is no fear of a polar vortex like that we saw last year with some other producers,” says Mohammad of Select Sands, which has two known producing frac sand mines in northeastern Arkansas, in the Ozark Mountains, and sells the bulk of its frac sand to producers in the Eagle Ford, Barnett and Haynesville shales, as well as in the new marine shale, Tuscaloosa.

Chicago-based consulting company Professional Logistics Group Inc. found in 2012 that transportation represented 58% of the cost of frac sand, while Select Sands estimates the costs between 66-75% today.

The competition is stiff, but this game is still unfolding, while increased demand is reshaping the playing field.

US Silica Holdings Inc. says demand for its own volumes of sand could double or triple in the next five years, and its three publicly-traded rivals—Emerge Energy Services Fairmount Santrol and Hi-Crush Partners have also made strong Wall Street debuts over the past two years.

Source: http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Follow-The-Sand-To-The-Real-Fracking-Boom.html

Robert Reich

Why College Is Necessary But Gets You Nowhere – OpEd

This is the time of year when high school seniors apply to college, and when I get lots of mail about whether college is worth the cost.

The answer is unequivocally yes, but with one big qualification. I’ll come to the qualification in a moment but first the financial case for why it’s worth going to college.

Put simply, people with college degrees continue to earn far more than people without them. And that college “premium” keeps rising.

Last year, Americans with four-year college degrees earned on average 98 percent more per hour than people without college degrees.

In the early 1980s, graduates earned 64 percent more.

So even though college costs are rising, the financial return to a college degree compared to not having one is rising even faster.

But here’s the qualification, and it’s a big one.

A college degree no longer guarantees a good job. The main reason it pays better than the job of someone without a degree is the latter’s wages are dropping.

In fact, it’s likely that new college graduates will spend some years in jobs for which they’re overqualified.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 46 percent of recent college graduates are now working in jobs that don’t require college degrees. (The same is true for more than a third of college graduates overall.)

Their employers still choose college grads over non-college grads on the assumption that more education is better than less.

As a result, non-grads are being pushed into ever more menial work, if they can get work at all. Which is a major reason why their pay is dropping.

What’s going on? For years we’ve been told globalization and technological advances increase the demand for well-educated workers. (Confession: I was one of the ones making this argument.)

This was correct until around 2000. But since then two things have reversed the trend.

First, millions of people in developing nations are now far better educated, and the Internet has given them an easy way to sell their skills in advanced economies like the United States. Hence, more and more complex work is being outsourced to them.

Second, advanced software is taking over many tasks that had been done by well-educated professionals – including data analysis, accounting, legal and engineering work, even some medical diagnoses.

As a result, the demand for well-educated workers in the United States seems to have peaked around 2000 and fallen since. But the supply of well-educated workers has continued to grow.

What happens when demand drops and supply increases? You guessed it. This is why the incomes of young people who graduated college after 2000 have barely risen.

Those just within the top ten percent of college graduate earnings have seen their incomes increase by only 4.4 percent since 2000.

When it comes to beginning their careers, it’s even worse. The starting wages of college graduates have actually dropped since 2000. The starting wage of women grads has dropped 8.1 percent, and for men, 6.7 percent.

I hear it all the time from my former students. The New York Times calls them “Generation Limbo” — well-educated young adults “whose careers are stuck in neutral, coping with dead-end jobs and listless prospects.” A record number are living at home.

The deeper problem is this. While a college education is now a prerequisite for joining the middle class, the middle class is in lousy shape. Its share of the total economic pie continues to shrink, while the share going to the very top continues to grow.

Given all this, a college degree is worth the cost because it at least enables a young person to tread water. Without the degree, young people can easily drown.

Some young college graduates will make it into the top 1 percent. But that route is narrower than ever. The on-ramp often requires the right connections (especially parents well inside the top 1 percent).

And the off-ramps basically go in only three directions: Wall Street, corporate consulting, and Silicon Valley.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe the main reason to go to college – or to choose one career over another — should be to make lots of money.

Hopefully, a college education gives young people tools for leading full and purposeful lives, and having meaningful careers.

Even if they don’t change the world for the better, I want my students to be responsible and engaged citizens.

But when considering a college education in a perilous economy like this, it’s also important to know the economics.

Grasshopper

Grasshoppers Signal Slow Recovery Of Post-Agricultural Woodlands

Sixty years ago, the plows ended their reign and the fields were allowed to return to nature — allowed to become the woodland forests they once were.

But even now, the ghosts of land-use past haunt these woods. New research by Philip Hahn and John Orrock at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the recovery of South Carolina longleaf pine woodlands once used for cropland shows just how long lasting the legacy of agriculture can be in the recovery of natural places.

By comparing grasshoppers found at woodland sites once used for agriculture to similar sites never disturbed by farming, Hahn and Orrock show that despite decades of recovery, the numbers and types of species found in each differ, as do the understory plants and other ecological variables, like soil properties. The findings were published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

While several studies have examined the recovery of plant species at such sites, this is the first to examine the impacts of historical agriculture on animals.

The findings have implications for conservationists, land-use planners, policymakers and land managers looking to prevent habitat destruction or promote ecological recovery of natural spaces. Hahn and Orrock suggest new strategies may be needed in these disturbed environments.

The findings also challenge conventional ecological wisdom, in ways the scientists did not expect.

“Ecologically, grasshoppers are at the heart of the food chain,” says Hahn, a graduate student in Orrock’s laboratory. Orrock is an associate professor in the Department of Zoology. “They eat the plants and then they’re eaten by others: other insects, reptiles, birds.”

Like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, the grasshoppers in the study served as a signal of the recovery of areas once used for agriculture. Building on past research that shows post-agricultural sites have poorer-quality soil and differences in the types of plant species that grow back, Hahn surveyed the plants, soil quality and grasshoppers found at 36 study sites.

He wanted to know whether earlier land use changed the numbers and types of grasshoppers found at each site and whether the relationships between the insects, plants and the environment were altered.

Sweeping through the plants in the understory with a tool called — fittingly — a sweep net, Hahn collected grasshoppers and recorded the types and numbers of those he found in both undisturbed and post-agricultural woodlands. He collected 459 of the hopping critters, representing numerous different types of grasshopper.

“The humble grasshopper, ubiquitous, yet cryptic,” Orrock reflects; they’re not as visible or well known as the popular deer.

The researchers found differences in the types of grasshoppers collected in each, related to the understory plants that grew and the hardness of the soil.

In remnant woodlands with no history of agriculture, more plant types equated to greater numbers of grasshoppers, an expected and traditional link between plants and the species that depend on them for food and shelter. This connection did not exist in areas once used as cropland, calling into question a long-held dogma of ecological relationships.

“It challenges what we know,” Orrock says. “If it’s true that the past influences ecological relationships in ways that we can’t predict, then all bets are off.”

The researchers say this is especially important as land use continues to change, with some areas of the U.S. converting wild spaces into new agricultural lands and others abandoning massive plots once used to grow food.

“We’ve wondered why it is — 60 years after we’ve stopped plowing — there are these legacy effects of land use on communities,” says Orrock. “Why has what we did so long ago lasted? Why hasn’t nature recovered?”

The boundaries can be so distinct in the woodlands they studied, he says, that it’s easy to tell within four meters where the plowline once ended.

“It’s remarkable how far the past reaches into the future,” says Orrock.

The knowledge, the researchers say, presents opportunities to do better. For instance, Hahn believes new strategies can be tried, like reintroducing once-native plant species to abandoned sites earlier on, or proactively working on restoring the health of the soil. Conversely, more conservation and management efforts could be spent promoting less habitat degradation in the first place.

“Before the research started, we thought most bad things could be undone in a decade,” Orrock says. “The good news is, at least we know where we are and it’s a start. We know business as usual might not work.”

Google Mountain View campus garden

Yahoo Replaces Google As Default Search Engine On Firefox

(MINA) — Yahoo! replaced Google as the default search engine on Firefox browsers in the U.S., as Yahoo Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer seeks out more partnerships to boost the Web portal’s traffic and revenue.

Google had been the automatic search option for the Internet browser, developed by Mountain View, California-based Mozilla Corp., since 2004. Under the agreement announced yesterday, Google, Microsoft Corp.’s Bing and other search services will be available as alternatives, No. 3-ranked Mozilla said in a blog post.

Mayer, who has been working to turn around the Sunnyvale, California-based company since taking the helm two years ago, is looking for ways to bolster Yahoo’s search business, which makes up about 40 percent of sales, minus revenue passed to partner sites. Earlier this year, Yahoo, which depends on Microsoft for its search technology, struck a deal with Yelp Inc. to deliver content from the review website.

“At Yahoo, we believe deeply in search — it’s an area of investment, opportunity and growth for us,” Mayer said in a statement. “This partnership helps to expand our reach in search and also gives us an opportunity to work closely with Mozilla to find ways to innovate more broadly in search, communications and digital content.”

Yahoo’s search service is under pressure, with the Web portal’s share of the U.S. search-advertising revenue projected to shrink to 5.6 percent in 2014 from 6.1 percent last year, according to EMarketer Inc. Google has maintained its leadership, claiming more than 70 percent of the market since 2010.

Oregon's John Kitzhaber

Kitzhaber On Immigration: ‘As Oregonians, We Believe In A Fair Shot For Everyone’

Following President Barack Obama’s executive action on Immigration, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber said in a statement that the President ‘took appropriate action … showing leadership in moving this country’s immigration laws in the right direction.”

In the opinion of Kitzhaber, “As Oregonians, we believe in a fair shot for everyone. The President’s message reflects those values of fairness and honors basic human rights.”

In the statement, Kitzhaber also took time to address Republican concerns over the President’s actions.

“This isn’t the first time that a president has taken action on a national level,” Kitzhaber said, adding that “both Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush took similar steps.”

While welcoming the President’s executive action on immigration, Kitzhaber said this action is “only a stop gap.”

The Governor said, “It remains to be seen whether Congress will step up, do what’s right, and pass meaningful immigration reform, or whether it will continue to play politics with the lives of millions who have been living, working, and contributing to our communities for years.”

Suzanne Bonamici

Bonamici Says Obama Immigration Action ‘Meaningful First Step,’ But Limited

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) said in a statement  that President Barack Obama’s action on immigration “is a meaningful first step, but it is limited and temporary.”

Bonamici said that, “After spending more than a year urging Speaker Boehner to take up the Senate’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill, I am pleased that President Obama is taking action to bring millions of aspiring Americans out of the shadows to contribute to our country’s future.”

According to Bonamici, “Across NW Oregon constituents talk about the need for policy changes on immigration. Business owners need reform to eliminate uncertainty surrounding their workforce. Technology companies want an updated Visa process to keep skilled workers in the United States. And families long for the opportunity to build their lives and keep their relatives together.”

Bonamici noted that, “A bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill passed the Senate 511 days ago; it is long past time for the House to take action. It is our responsibility to address this important issue and pass permanent reform.”

US Cardinal To Undocumented: You Can ‘Come Out Of The Shadows’

By Elise Harris

The vice president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has said that charitable immigration reform must address the needs of both legal and illegal immigrants, encouraging the latter to come forward and receive help.

“Immigration (reform) should be more comprehensive, that is, we cover all immigrants, even the undocumented. We give people a chance to get their green card, a chance to come out of the shadows, so that when they work the money they get for themselves helps the culture too,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo told CNA on Nov. 19.

“From my point of view, it’s important that immigrants come out of the shadows, particularly the undocumented ones. In my mind it’s one of the most important things we could do.”

Present in Rome for a Nov. 17-21 congress on the Pastoral Care for Migrants, Cardinal DiNardo, who is Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, offered his comments just one day before U.S. President Barack Obama revealed a major immigration reform package, issued by executive order.

In what is seen as a highly-contentious move, the president announced that he would stay the deportation of certain undocumented immigrant parents for up to three years, allowing them to work legally. Eligibility requirements include having lived in the U.S. for at least five years, having children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, passing a criminal background check and agreeing to pay taxes.

Roughly 4 million people will likely qualify for this measure, while thousands of others will benefit from other changes. The president extended benefits of temporary residence to more children of undocumented immigrants, expanding the eligibility for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and extending their temporary stay from two to three years.

In addition, the president said he would increase border security resources and deport those who had illegally crossed the border recently. He said he would focus government enforcement resources on criminals and those who threaten security.

The executive order will mark the biggest change in immigration policy in three decades.

In his televised address, President Obama echoed Cardinal DiNardo’s sentiments in telling immigrants to “Come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

The president insisted that his proposals did not amount to amnesty or straight-shot path to citizenship, although it will offer Social Security cards to those who qualify for the deferred deportation.

“What I’m describing is accountability – a common-sense, middle ground approach,” the president said.

“Mass amnesty would be unfair,” he stated. “Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character.”

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, issued a Nov. 20 statement welcoming the announcement of deferred deportations, saying that the United States has “a long history of welcoming and aiding the poor, the outcast, the immigrant and the disadvantaged.”

Each day in the Church’s social service projects, hospitals, schools and parishes, the devastating consequences of the separation of families due to the deportation of parents or spouses can be seen, he said.

The bishop noted that the episcopal conference had asked the Obama administration to “do everything within its legitimate authority to bring relief and justice to our immigrant brothers and sisters,” adding that as pastors, “we welcome any efforts within these limits that protect individuals and protect and reunite families and vulnerable children.”

He urged President Obama and members of Congress to work together in pursuing permanent reforms to the U.S. immigration system that seek the best interests of both the nation and the persons who migrate to the country in search of refuge.

“We will continue to work with both parties to enact legislation that welcomes and protects immigrants and promotes a just and fair immigration policy,” the bishop said.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, issued a Nov. 20 statement, saying, “There is an urgent pastoral need for a more humane view of immigrants and a legal process that respects each person’s dignity, protects human rights, and upholds the rule of law.”

“As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said so eloquently: ‘Every human being is a child of God! He or she bears the image of Christ! We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected, and loved,’” the archbishop said.

On the topic of improving the pastoral care of immigrants, Cardinal DiNardo explained that the Church already offers a lot of help. However, he said that a legal reform would help “lighten-up” the Church’s burden and allow greater focus on pastoral assistance.

“The Church always emphasizes the human person, so when we talk about the human person, we don’t ask if you’re an immigrant or whether you were born in the country,” the cardinal observed.

“You are a human person that has aptitudes, has a singularity, has an excellence and a dignity that we want to draw on,” he said, stressing that this vision is important to keep in mind when welcoming immigrants and helping them integrate into society.

Mexico flag

Mexico: Missing Students Protest Repressed By Police

The police used tear gas and hydrants to disperse thousands of demonstrators protesting yesterday afternoon outside the government building on Zócalo Square, in the heart of Mexico City. The demonstrators are demanding justice for the 43 students missing since September in the southern Guerrero State.

The families of the students also participated in the protest, with demonstrators chanting slogans against President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The students disappeared after a police intervention to prevent them from demonstrating for their rights. According to investigators, after attacking them police handed them over to members of a criminal gang who killed them.

Barack Obama

Obama Unveils Sweeping Immigration Reform

President Barack Obama has bypassed Congress on immigration reform, saying the country can no longer wait to fix a broken system.

The president unveiled his plan during a televised primetime address, in which he outlined a plan to temporarily protect as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, allowing parents whose children are U.S. citizens or in the U.S. legally to qualify for work permits.

“What I’m describing is accountability — a common-sense, middle-ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported,” he said. “If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.”

Many Republicans have expressed outrage over Obama’s decision to use an executive order to put forth his plan, instead of the usual congressional legislative process.

Republicans have also described the shielding of illegal immigrants from deportation as an act of granting amnesty to criminals.

Obama acknowledged that criticism directly. “Leaving this broken system the way it is” … “that’s the real amnesty,” he said. He then called mass amnesty “unfair” and “mass deportation … both impossible and contrary to our character.”

Obama has waited more than a year for House Republican leaders to put an immigration reform plan to a vote after the Democrat-controlled Senate passed one. Despite disagreements on how to resolve the immigration problem, the glut of unaccompanied children on the Texas border earlier this year convinced Americans that the issue no longer can wait, a point Obama emphasized in his message.

Officials say the president is acting legally and that he is still willing to work with Congress.

Hispanics welcome action, with reservations

Many Hispanics are welcoming the announcement by Obama. In Los Angeles, many immigrants gathered to watch the televised announcement.

Twenty-three-year-old Diana Ramos, who was born in Mexico, says the action will help her parents, who are undocumented, but have children who are U.S. citizens. That qualifies them for relief under the plan.

“This brings a lot of hope for my family that we won’t have to live with fear any more,” she said.

Pilar Galvez, a U.S. citizen born in El Salvador, said the move will help many who have entered the United States from her native country.

“I am happy that Obama is doing this for families that are working hard to bring better [things] for their families to and bring better [things] to the United States,” said Galvez.

In Houston, Texas, another state with a large Hispanic population, Jesus Mejia, a Guatemalan immigrant, is pleased with the president.

He said it is something good, that it is human to understand the situation of an immigrant who came to the United States out of necessity.

But Teresa, a U.S. citizen who came from Ecuador, wonders if the president is delaying lasting reform by not working with Congress.

She said both should be in agreement to produce a plan that will benefit many people. She also worries about undocumented migrants with criminal backgrounds staying in the country.

Xiomara Corpeno of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles called the president’s action an important step, but said a lasting solution must do more.

“We know that it has to be bipartisan. The Republicans just need to wake up and realize that if they want to include everyone in this country, they need to pass immigration reform,” said Corpeno.

Republican responses

Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, soon to be Senate majority leader, says his party will consider a number of options to thwart the president. Some Republicans are threatening another government shutdown, while others want to ban funding for Obama’s immigration plan.

McConnell also said the president’s plan was aimed at securing his political legacy.

“The action he’s proposed would ignore the law, would reject the voice of the voters and would impose new unfairness on law-abiding immigrants, all without solving the problem,” McConnell said.

Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said Obama’s plan goes far beyond similar action taken by former president George H.W. Bush.

“This is millions of people. It’s a hundred times larger than a similar thing that advocates are pointing to that the first President Bush did,” said Krikorian.

Some analysts, such as Klaus Larres, professor of international relations at the University of North Carolina, say the Republican threat will remain rhetorical.

“There will be lots of verbal attacks on the Obama administration, on the president personally, but once the new Congress is in office and has settled in, I don’t think that any counter-action to Obama’s plan will be taken that will be effective,” said Larres.

Toward the end of the address, Obama called on Congress to pass legislation.

“To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” he said.

Obama is also expected to expand an executive order he signed in 2012, known as the Dream Act, that protects young immigrants who came to the United States as children from deportation by lifting the age restrictions on people who qualify. The parents of these children, however, would not be eligible for delayed deportation.

Undocumented immigrants eligible for these protections would not be entitled to receive federal benefits, including subsidies to obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Obama will sign the order Friday in Las Vegas, Nevada, which has a large Hispanic population.

Immigration lawyers warn of troubles

On Thursday, as details of the plan circulated, immigration lawyers warned that Obama’s televised address may prove the easiest part of his controversial plan. Implementing it will be difficult and many people may never benefit, some lawyers said.

Immigration advocacy groups say they don’t have sufficient resources to provide legal services to their existing clients, never mind the millions of potential new ones.

Obama’s proposal is not expected to provide federal funding for attorneys to guide immigrants through the process.

Karla McKanders, who runs the immigration law clinic at the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville, told Reuters, “If the past is any indication, it’s going to be a significant increase in people asking for legal assistance.”

Also, immigrants who have lived illegally in the United States for many years can be afraid to sign up or lack the proper documentation to back up their claims, said Jacqueline Rishty from the Immigration Legal Services Program of Catholic Charities in Washington.

The lack of immigration lawyers also opens the door for self-described legal experts who give bad advice or even scam clients out of thousands of dollars. The American Bar Association has warned of fraudsters offering legal services in Spanish-speaking communities.

Executive orders

U.S. presidents through the years have decreed a variety of changes through executive action, decisions that often attract little public attention.

Just since July, Obama has issued 10 executive orders, none of them controversial. Among other things, they established an advisory council for U.S. businesses in Africa, revised a list of communicable diseases and set the terms for hiring alcohol, tobacco and firearms agents.

But some executive orders have played prominent roles in shaping U.S. history and often were controversial at the time or proved to be when examined with the passage of time.

President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order that forcibly transferred Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II, an act for which the country has subsequently apologized and paid reparations to the victims.

Later, President Harry Truman abolished racial discrimination in the U.S. armed forces with a 1948 executive order and nationalized all steel mills during a 1952 labor strike.

President Dwight Eisenhower decreed an end to racial segregation in the country’s public schools in 1957.

Through the years, other presidents have issued many more executive orders than Obama.

Several executive orders have been overturned in court challenges, including Truman’s steel mill decree. New presidents can also override their predecessors’ orders with new directives, while Congress can attempt to undo the orders through legislation.

VOA correspondents Mike O’Sullivan in Los Angeles and Zlatica Hoke in Washington contributed to this report.

Marijuana

Why Are There So Few Arrests For Marijuana Violations? – Analysis

By David W. Murray and John P. Walters

  • RAND: “In no Western country is a user at much risk of being criminally penalized for using marijuana.”
  • Arrests for marijuana are actually far fewer than the rates for other drugs would indicate.
  • One arrest for 34,000 joints smoked.

A common criticism of laws against marijuana use and/or possession is that there are a disproportionately large number of marijuana arrests. In 2013, there were roughly 609,000 people arrested for marijuana possession, according to the FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Reports, the most recent year for which data is available.1 To many, this fact stands as an indictment of marijuana laws, under the presumption that the number of arrests is excessive, and hence must represent an injustice.

Further, the number of arrests is often mustered on behalf of the campaign to legalize marijuana—the logic being that the sheer magnitude of the arrest figures represents a failure of public policy which legalization would correct.

Moreover, the presumed excessive number of marijuana arrests is seen as an argument that police resources are being misdirected towards a drug that does little harm, at the expense of policing responses to drugs thought to be more dangerous, such as heroin or cocaine.

Lastly, the arrest figures feed into the assumption of many that marijuana arrests are disproportionately responsible for filling prisons with drug offenders, particularly low-level and non-violent ones. This is seen as an indictment of the drug war, and is said to represent an irresponsible expenditure of not only money but also criminal justice resources.

If only marijuana use were legal, the argument goes, this threat to public well-being—wasted police resources, needlessly overcrowded prisons, and injustice against innocent marijuana users—would be avoided. Under this argument, the laws against marijuana use pose the greatest harm to society, greater than the impact of the drug itself.

Do data actually support this position?

In 2013, there were 11.3 million total arrests, 13.3 percent of which (totaling 1.5 million arrests) were for drug abuse violations.2 Most drug abuse violations were marijuana related offenses—marijuana possession arrests were 40.6 percent of all drug abuse violations and a little more than 5 percent of all annual arrests. These arrests are simply not a significant portion of law enforcement activity.

Let’s focus on the drug possession offenses (though the conclusions would not be affected materially by incorporating drug trafficking offenses). Not only are possession arrests the largest category of drug violations, they represent the class of offenses most affected by legalization proposals.

What about drug offenses for non-marijuana violations? In contrast to marijuana possession arrests (40.6 percent of all drug violations), possession arrests for the “dangerous drugs”—heroin and cocaine—were 16.4 percent of all drug violations. Note that arrests for heroin and cocaine constitute just 2.1 percent of all annual arrests.

These two drugs are not further broken apart in the UCR. The remainder of drug possession arrests was for what the FBI terms “synthetic or manufactured drugs” (about 4.6 percent of drug abuse violations), and “other dangerous nonnarcotic drugs” (20.7 percent of drug abuse violations). Synthetics would include drugs like amphetamines, while drugs such as diverted Tramadol or so-called “date rape” drugs would be included in the “other” category.

We see that there were 2.5 times as many marijuana possession arrests than there were heroin or cocaine possession arrests in 2013. (In absolute numbers, that’s 609,423 marijuana possession arrests contrasted with 246,171 heroin or cocaine arrests.)

Two facts complicate the argument that these data reveal the supposed injustice of marijuana laws producing disproportionate arrests, and are further filling the prisons with low level offenders.

First, of actual inmates in the state prison system, where the great majority of drug offenders are incarcerated (in 2013, of 1.6 million total prison inmates, 1.4 million were in the state prison system), those in custody with a drug offense as the most serious crime were only 210,200 inmates, about 15.9 percent of the total.

According to a 2008 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of drug offense inmates, only 0.3 of one percent had low-level marijuana possession as their most serious offense (the study from 2008 is the most recent one available for this data point).3 Applying this figure to the 2013 data, the actual number would be about 631 inmates. Further, according to the BJS analysis, most of those inmates had “pled down” to the marijuana charge from more serious offenses.

It follows that legalizing marijuana possession, far from solving a prison crowding problem, would have virtually no impact on the overall prison inmate population, or even on drug offenders considered separately. The state prison system is simply not “filled” by drug offenders, and in particular, is not filled by marijuana possession offenders.

Inmates in federal prisons, the smaller category, do have a larger percentage of drug offenders as a total inmate population than the state system, but more than 99 percent of federal drug offense inmates (as of 2010, the latest year for which these data are available) were convicted of drug trafficking charges.4 The status of such federal inmates would not be affected by legalization of marijuana possession.

The second fact complicating the portrait of marijuana possession arrests being “excessive” is the fact that there are vastly more marijuana users in the United States than there are heroin and cocaine users, even when the latter two figures are combined.

Counting the number of past month cocaine users is fairly straightforward, and the result can be found in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). In 2013, there were an estimated 1.5 million past month cocaine users.5

Combining that figure with heroin users to match the UCR category for arrests is a bit trickier. The NSDUH reports 289,000 past month heroin users, but certain analysts fear that many heroin users are not found in stable housing circumstances, and hence are undercounted in the NSDUH. An alternative method developed by RAND proposed measuring what they called “chronic” heroin users, using methods beyond the household survey. The RAND study estimated 1.5 million “chronic” users of heroin in 2010, and this figure is derived from a “modeled estimate.”6

Taken together, then, there would be roughly 3 million habitual “current” users of heroin/cocaine, compared with an estimated 18.9 million “current” users of marijuana (again, in 2013 and according to the NSDUH).

To break these data down even further, there is roughly one heroin/cocaine possession arrest for every 12 past month users (246,171 arrests for 3 million users). What about the “excessive arrests” of marijuana users? These data show that there is roughly one possession arrest for every 31 past month users of marijuana (609,423 arrests for 18.9 million users).

So the number of marijuana users compared to the combined figure for heroin/cocaine users is 6 to 1. But the ratio of marijuana possession arrests to heroin/cocaine possession arrests is only 2.5 to 1. Were marijuana arrests to follow the heroin/cocaine pattern for arrests, there would be over 1.5 million annual marijuana possession arrests, or if we use the respective proportion of users, with 6 times more for marijuana, there would not be only 609,423 arrests, but rather 3.6 million arrests for marijuana possession, alone.

By either calculation, marijuana arrests are not disproportionate to the magnitude of the problem; if anything, marijuana users are more likely to be ignored than persecuted.

There are complications to this argument that are technical and difficult to pursue here. Drug violation arrests are certainly a function of policing resources and priorities, as well as the circumstances of the drug use, and the frequency of “exposure” leading to risk of arrest.

Cocaine and heroin violations are commonly associated with urban environments, while marijuana arrests are found in urban settings and elsewhere, nationwide. Hence, there are different sets of policing resources for the two categories of drugs, as well as different policing policies concerning arrest priorities, perhaps reflecting as well collateral criminal acts attached to the drug use.

And what about exposure risk? According to a 2010 RAND study, there is yet another way to calculate the risk of arrest for marijuana users. RAND developed a “national consumption” estimate for marijuana in the U.S., arriving at a figure of 3,500 metric tons (MT) of marijuana consumed annually.7

The RAND estimate was what researchers call a “demand-based” estimate, in that it calculated the presumed number of users (prevalence rate) and then made assumptions about how much these users might have smoked on an annual basis.

The alternative is to focus on a “supply-based” estimate, which takes account of estimates of marijuana cultivation from known sources, linked with information about marijuana seizures (particularly border seizures), marijuana eradication (for domestic sources), and information about the marijuana criminal marketplace.

RAND’s estimate assumed an average joint at 0.4 grams, and estimated that a total of 8.75 billion joints of marijuana are consumed annually. Based on their assumption of 750,000 arrests for marijuana possession annually (as we have seen, a high figure), they estimated a risk of arrest per exposure through marijuana use.

They conclude that there is only one arrest for every 11,600 joints smoked. (Setting aside what is known as the Willie Nelson problem, which is the possibility that the same person may be arrested more than once, as well as obvious variations in the frequency and circumstances of use across populations.)

Problems abound with the RAND estimate, not the least being that their overall consumption estimate is, by the evidence of multiple sources of supply, very low. Supply-based estimates derived from marijuana cultivation known to be available in the U.S. (from Mexico, where the estimate is based on overhead imagery, from Canada, and from domestic cultivation sources, including estimates for indoor grows) provide figures that are at least triple the RAND figure of 3,500 MT of consumption (while other methodologies go even higher).

While marijuana consumption estimates are inherently imprecise, a more plausible risk of arrest per exposure, based on 10,500 MT of consumption, would be one arrest for every 34,000 joints smoked, if one accepts the 0.4 grams per joint figure from RAND.

Finally, as RAND notes, whether the disposition is jail or prison, “we can safely infer that most of those arrested for simple possession are not incarcerated at all.”8 Though the RAND analysis was focused on legal changes in California, they generalize the point to the international setting, declaring “that in no Western country is a user at much risk of being criminally penalized for using marijuana.”9

This realization may help us understand findings involving liberalized marijuana policies on crime rates. For instance, researchers comparing states that have enabled medical marijuana to those that have not often report no major difference in such offenses as drug crimes. Seen in the context of arrest risk, however, we can suggest that while these observations may be true, they are effectively trivial.

Since the actual risk of arrest for marijuana users is so low in any venue, the impact of liberalized access policies in one state will be difficult to detect in interstate comparisons. The impact of liberalized access policies on prevalence rates, however, appears to be consequential, especially since youth report that a major source (at least 30 percent, according to the 2013 Monitoring the Future study of 12th graders) of their illicit marijuana is a medical-marijuana card holder.

By whatever the precise calculus of exposure, of risk of arrest, or of consumption, two things are very clear. First, far from being disproportionately large and excessive, arrests for marijuana are actually far fewer than the rates for other drugs would indicate.

And second, legalizing marijuana use, while certainly increasing the damage to public health, will not produce the positive impact on criminal justice, either on the streets or in the prison population, that advocates blithely claim.

Meanwhile, the damage from marijuana use itself continues to escalate. We have elsewhere reviewed the current literature showing the dangers of the new, industrial-strength dope now being marketed throughout the country. In summary fashion, recent research has clearly established the striking mental health, cognitive, and behavioral consequences of regular marijuana consumption. The damage is significantly greater for chronic use by the developmentally young, or the already vulnerable, but it appears to affect even adult, casual users, and to follow a dose-response relationship.

The associations of heavy marijuana use include lowered IQ (estimated at an 8 point loss at adulthood), increased likelihood of psychotic incidents, memory and learning deficits, associations with delinquency, criminal behavior, a loss of motivation, and structural changes in the brain.

Marijuana benefits from the mythology that it is relatively harmless “kiddie-dope,” and that its impact is largely benign. Such false beliefs have driven the apparent acceptability of legalization, which solves none of the purported problems, while widening the devastation.

That is why we must conclude that the laws against marijuana possession, use, and trafficking, including the threat of arrest, the involvement of the criminal justice system in referrals to drug abuse treatment, and the presence of disincentives for youth use that provide a prevention deterrent, all serve the public interest.

The realization that a stunning political negligence, if not irresponsibility, on the part of the Department of Justice enabling and facilitating the steady march of marijuana legalization in the states, in clear contradiction of existing federal authorities, makes of current drug policy regarding marijuana a needless and self-inflicted wound upon the nation’s youth.

1. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/persons-arrested/persons-arrested
2. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/tables/table-29/table_29_estimated_number_of_arrests_united_states_2013.xls <
3. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2004 (October 2005) and 2004 Survey of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities, unpublished tabulations (February 2008).
4. M. Motivans, “Federal Justice Statistics 2010 – Statistical Tables,” U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (December 2013). p.37.
5. http://archive.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2013SummNatFindDetTables/DetTabs/NSDUH-DetTabsSect1peTabs1to46-2013.htm#tab1.1a
6. J. Caulkins et al., “What America’s Users Spend on Illegal Drugs: 2000-2010,” RAND Corporation (February 2014). p.23.
7. J. Caulkins et al., “Altered State? Assessing How Marijuana Legalization in California Could Influence Marijuana Consumption and Public Budgets,” RAND Corporation (2010). p.7.
8.Ibid, 9.
9.Ibid, 13.

Source: http://www.hudson.org/research/10811-why-are-there-so-few-arrests-for-marijuana-violations-

White House

Obama To Bypass Congress On Immigration Reform

U.S. President Barack Obama is set to unveil his plan Thursday to unilaterally protect millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States from deportation, but it is already drawing a heated rebuke from his political opponents.

The Democratic president said in advance of a White House speech that the country’s immigration policies have been ineffective for too long, forcing him to take executive action after Congress failed to reach agreement on a new law.

But Republican lawmakers have voiced outrage at Obama’s go-it-alone plan, noting that the president has frequently said he did not have the legal authority to change the immigration policies by himself, absent congressional approval.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the president’s plan was aimed at securing his political legacy.

“He’s right. The action he’s proposed would ignore the law, would reject the voice of the voters and would impose new unfairness on law-abiding immigrants, all without solving the problem,” McConnell said.

Republicans consider options

McConnell said Republican lawmakers, about to assume full control of Congress in January, are considering a variety of options to thwart Obama’s immigration plan.

Some Republicans said a shutdown of the government ought to be considered, while others are calling for a specific ban on funding for Obama’s immigration overtures.

The president will announce his plans in a live primetime address from the White House on Thursday at 8 p.m. EST (0100 UTC Friday).

News outlets said an executive order Obama plans to sign will allow as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to obtain work permits, including those with children born in the country and spouses of U.S. citizens.

Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, told Reuters that family-centered policies have long been deemed palatable to American voters.

“The idea of a kid growing up without his parent is hard to swallow. We’ve had a history in this country of adopting policies that are pro-family unification,” Fitz said, adding he thought policies should focus not just on family connections but also on rootedness, or ties to the community.

Obama is also expected to expand an executive order he signed in 2012, known as the Dream Act, that protects young immigrants who came to the United States as children from deportation by lifting the age restrictions on people who qualify. The parents of these children, however, would not be eligible for delayed deportation.

Undocumented immigrants eligible for these protections would not be entitled to receive federal benefits, including subsidies to obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Obama will sign the order Friday in Las Vegas, Nevada, which has a large Hispanic population.

Immigration lawyers warn of troubles

On Thursday, as details of the possible action circulated, immigration lawyers warned that Obama’s televised address may prove the easiest part of his controversial plan. Implementing it will be difficult and many people may never benefit, some lawyers said.

But immigration advocacy groups said they don’t have sufficient resources to provide legal services to their existing clients, never mind the millions of potential new ones.

Obama’s proposal is not expected to provide for federal funding for attorneys to guide immigrants through the process.

Karla McKanders, who runs the immigration law clinic at the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville, told Reuters, “If the past is any indication, it’s going to be a significant increase in people asking for legal assistance.”

Also, immigrants who have lived illegally in the United States for many years can be afraid to sign up or lack the proper documentation to back up their claims, said Jacqueline Rishty from the Immigration Legal Services Program of Catholic Charities in Washington.

The lack of immigration lawyers also opens the door for self-described legal experts who give bad advice or even scam clients out of thousands of dollars. The American Bar Association has warned of fraudsters offering legal services in Spanish-speaking communities.

Executive orders

U.S. presidents through the years have decreed a variety of changes through executive action, often decisions that attract little public attention.

Just since July, Obama has issued 10 executive orders, none of them controversial. Among other things, they established an advisory council for U.S. businesses in Africa, revised a list of communicable diseases and set the terms for hiring alcohol, tobacco and firearm agents.

But some executive orders have played prominent roles in shaping U.S. history and often were controversial at the time or proved to be when examined with the passage of time.

President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order that forcibly transferred Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War Two, an act the country has subsequently apologized for and paid reparations to the victims.

Later, President Harry Truman abolished racial discrimination in the U.S. armed forces with a 1948 executive order and nationalized all steel mills during a 1952 labor strike.

President Dwight Eisenhower decreed an end to racial segregation in the country’s public schools in 1957.

Through the years, other presidents have issued many more executive orders than Obama.

Several executive orders have been overturned in court challenges, including Truman’s steel mill decree. New presidents can also override their predecessors’ orders with new directives, while Congress can attempt to undo the orders through legislation.

Angelina Jolie, photo by Gage Skidmore

Jolie Says Wants To Switch Focus To Directing

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie says she plans to give up acting after a “few more” films and switch her focus to directing, according to Yahoo News Digest.

Jolie walked the red carpet in Sydney with husband Brad Pitt this week at the premiere of her new movie, World War II epic “Unbroken”, which was filmed in Australia.

“I love directing, I’m much happier directing. I like following a project all the way through. I like spending two years on something and learning about it… I like being pushed mentally to have to learn so much and be a part of every single aspect of a production,” she said.

It was her second foray behind the camera after the critically-acclaimed 2011 film “In the Land of Blood and Honey” and she said directing was where she saw her future.

“I’ll do a few more, but I’ll be happy to let that all go at some point,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald of acting, in comments published online Thursday, Nov 20.