Loan And Behold
October 7, 2021
The Good News
- NYC public libraries will end late fees in push for equity (AP)
- Germany expands compensation to more Holocaust survivors (LAT)
“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” — Leonard Bernstein
Spilling The Tea
An oil spill of perhaps 144,000 gallons of crude oil, first reported Saturday, polluted the waters off the southern coast of California, causing untold damage to wetlands, marine animals and wildlife, beaches, and businesses. The spill occurred three miles off the coast of Newport Beach and involved a failure in a 17.5 mile pipeline connected to an offshore platform operated by Amplify Energy. An estimated 1.5 million people were gathered in Huntington Beach to watch the annual Pacific Airshow. Sunday’s show was cancelled, and miles of Orange County beaches are now closed for the foreseeable future.
Peter Gutierrez Jr. operates a DJ company in Orange County, and regularly uses Huntington Beach for events. On Monday, Gutierrez filed the first federal lawsuit against Amplify Energy. He’s represented by a firm specializing in consequential class action lawsuits. The suit states that Gutierrez is suffering not only financial damage but damage to his health as a result of defendants’ conduct. “The corporations that run oil rigs and pipelines assume the risk of oil spills when they undertake the responsibility required to run those entities,” the suit says. “When that responsibility is breached by the defendants, as here, the consequences can be catastrophic.” Amplify is accused of negligence for allowing the release of “a hazardous substance,” and exposing people to materials “proven hazardous to health.”
California’s Governor Gavin Newsom (D) declared a state of emergency in Orange County, and said officials are “moving to cut red tape and mobilize all available resources to protect public health and the environment.” This is a laudable action for a governor to take. But aren’t there rules for federal government oversight on energy companies, and if so, why are there still so many disastrous oil spills like this one?
Experts, environmentalists, even federal watchdog agency reports say government regulators have long failed to effectively oversee energy companies that rely on pipelines to transport large volumes of oil from offshore rigs. They complain that federal authorities rely too heavily on oil companies to conduct their own checks of their infrastructure. Short-staffed federal overseers have failed to update regulations that are often decades old and far behind technological advances in the industry. Regulators have admitted that records show inspection requirements for pipelines are inadequate.
Following the devastating 2015 Refugio oil spill off Santa Barbara’s coast, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the two federal agencies responsible for overseeing underwater pipelines to adopt an aggressive inspection program and stop relying on oil companies to conduct their own inspections. The demand went nowhere. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Center repeated the obvious: “[T]here is inadequate oversight of these platforms. The system is flawed.” (NYT, The Hill, LA Times)
All That Romains
- A political crisis has resulted in the fall of Romania’s government. Prime Minister Florin Citu of the governing National Liberal Party was ousted after a no confidence vote in his government passed overwhelmingly on Tuesday. The motion was led by the opposition Social Democrat Party and supported by former coalition partner USR-Plus and the far-right AUR party.
- The crisis began last month, when Citu fired the justice minister, a member of USR-Plus, for not signing off on a regional development program. USR-Plus called the firing an “abusive revocation” and quit the three-party cabinet. During parliamentary debates prior to Tuesday’s vote, Citu called the USR-Plus “a team of incompetents.”
- President Klaus Iohannis told reporters he will consult with lawmakers on appointing a new prime minister and meet with political parties next week. Iohannis said the crisis was “generated by cynical politicians,” and that besides wave four of a pandemic and an energy prices crisis, all some politicians thought to do was to add another crisis. (LA Times)
Expand And Contract
- Hope of enlarging the European Union by extending membership to six Western Balkan nations appears to have disintegrated. Despite the E.U. having spent years and billions of euros preparing Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to join the bloc, the reality is that membership is slipping further into the future, not getting closer. A former foreign minister of Kosovo said, “EU enlargement is effectively dead in the Western Balkans, or at least in suspended animation,” with Northern and Western European politicians just paying lip-service to the idea.
- The E.U.’s cold shoulder is particularly harsh to North Atlantic Treaty Organization members Albania and North Macedonia, the start of whose membership talks have been repeatedly delayed despite Brussels saying they are technically ready. Biden administration officials and many in Europe worry that stalling the EU’s expansion into the Western Balkans opens the region to rivals and adversaries, like Russia and China, all with historic or economic interests in the region. (WSJ)
Additional World News
- ISIS-K suicide bomber who carried out deadly Kabul airport attack had been released from prison days earlier (CNN)
- Boris Johnson Pledges Transformed Economy for U.K. (NYT, $)
- Hong Kong leader unveils metropolis plan at ‘new start’ for development (Reuters)
- The Afghan War Ended With Zero MIAs (NYT, $)
- ASEAN discusses excluding Myanmar junta chief from summit -envoy (Reuters)
- Anti-Semitic graffiti found at Auschwitz, says museum (CNN)
Refund The Police?
- Earlier this year, the Democratic mayor of Kansas City, Missouri and the City Council sought to reduce the budget for the Kansas City Police Department by $42.3 million. The idea was to then reallocate that money to community programs aimed at preventing crime and expanding community outreach — the real purpose underlying the slogan “defund the police.” After the City Council approved the budget-cutting measures, the Kansas City police board filed suit in May to overturn the ordinances.
- On Tuesday, a Jackson County judge ruled that the City Council overstepped its authority and violated state laws by approving the measures. The judge ordered that the reallocated funding be restored to the police budget. The ruling was celebrated by the police department and Missouri’s Republican attorney general, who called the decision “a huge win for the people of Kansas City and law enforcement officers.” (The Hill)
Loan And Behold
- The Education Department said Wednesday it will temporarily drop some of the toughest requirements around a student loan forgiveness program criticized for its notoriously complex requirements. Congress created the program in 2007 to reward college students for going into public service. As long as they made 10 years of payments on their federal student loans, the program promised to erase the remainder.
- But to date, only 5,500 borrowers have gotten their student debt erased, and over 90% of applicants have been rejected. After making a decade of payments, many borrowers learned they had the wrong type of federal loan or repayment plan to be eligible for the program.
- The temporary changes will now give those borrowers eligibility to get their loans erased. Through October 2022, borrowers who’ve worked 10 years in a qualifying job will be eligible for loan relief no matter what kind of federal loan or repayment plan they have; furthermore, previously ineligible past loan payments will now count. (AP News, NBC News)
Additional USA News
- Mark Zuckerberg hits back at Facebook whistleblower claims (Guardian)
- Democrats are serious about potentially changing Senate rules to avoid default (CNN)
- Missouri inmate executed despite pleas from Pope, lawmakers (The Hill)
- Los Angeles poised to enact strict Covid vaccination mandate The proposal would require people age 12 and up (NBC)
- NIH Director to Step Down by the End of 2021 (NYT, $)
- How South Dakota became a global tax haven on par with the Cayman Islands (Axios)
Longtime Limestone County sheriff, 70-year-old Mike Blakely, was removed from office after being convicted of theft and ethics violations in August. He’d been charged with taking no interest loans from a Limestone County jail fund that held prisoners’ money, and of stealing $4,000 from his campaign account. He was in his tenth straight year before being ousted, making him Alabama’s longest-serving sheriff at the time.
Right now, Blakely’s free on bond while appealing his conviction, but when he was in custody he spent over two weeks in the Limestone County jail in Athens. Blakely maintains his innocence, and likes to talk up things he’s proud of having done while sheriff — especially the Limestone County jail, which he ran for those ten years. He gives the jail five stars. “Best jail in Alabama — that’s another thing I’m proud of,” Blakely said to reporters outside his attorney’s office in Huntsville. “The food was real good, the staff took very good care of me,” he said.
The sheriff didn’t want anyone to misunderstand and think he’d gotten special treatment from his former staff. He absolutely didn’t. “I was incarcerated, whether they kept me in my office up front or whether they had me in the hole in the back,” he said. “When you’re incarcerated, let me tell you, you don’t have the freedom to go.” The sheriff, adorned in his trademark cowboy hat and boots, was also quick to say he “couldn’t ask for better treatment from the inmates.” Some even offered to have food delivered to him in jail. “I said, ‘No I eat the jail food ’cause I love it because I’ve been eating it for the last 38 years,” he boasted.
Blakely was sentenced to three years in jail, and once he begins serving his term, it won’t be in Limestone County. The judge said he’ll be going to the Franklin County jail, about 60 miles away. We won’t know for a while yet how Franklin County jail food stacks up, but we’re sure to hear. Stay Tuned. (AP News)
- Hundreds of weird three-eyed ‘dinosaur shrimp’ spotted swimming at national monument (CNET)
- America’s 50,000 monuments: More mermaids than congresswomen, more Confederates than abolitionists (WaPo, $)
- Kellogg’s cereal plant workers go on strike (NPR)
- Among the Stars chronicles daring space mission to repair physics experiment (Ars Technica)
- 700-year-old Antarctic ice cores reveal unexpected impact on Earth’s atmosphere (CNET)
- Tesla must pay $137 million to a Black employee who sued for racial discrimination (NPR)
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