Wandering Eye: Fracking linked to rise in radon, shady shit in the insurance industry again, and more

Documentation of the dangers of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has been mounting, with fracking shown to cause earthquakes, and now, from a new study in "Environmental Health Perspectives," it's shown to coincide with a dramatic rise in indoor radon concentrations. The radon study's findings make sense, given that radon mostly rises up in soil gas from the Earth's crust, which is disturbed by fracking activity. The researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, who noted that radon is "the second-leading cause of lung cancer worldwide," analyzed state-collected data in Pennsylvania about indoor radon concentrations from 1989 to 2013, and found that locations where levels increased rapidly in the past decade were also where the fracking boom had arrived. In Maryland, where last year outgoing Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) decided to allow fracking, the General Assembly this session passed a two-year moratorium that awaits the signature of the pro-fracking new governor, Larry Hogan (R). (Van Smith)


Remember AIG, the huge insurance company bailed out with a trillion taxpayer dollars? The financial alchemy that made that bailout possible is still alive and well, the New York Times reports. The detailed story examines captive reinsurance under state regulation, which has allowed big life insurance companies to underfund their reserves by pingponging IOUs between shell companies with names like "Tapioca View." If you're wondering where Goldman Sachs is in this, wonder not: It controlled the whole deal examined in the story—first by creating a new insurance company, Accordia, via a Bermuda subsidiary, and then having Accordia create six subsidiaries which took on real liabilities but used bogus assets to offset them. In real accounting, the term for this is "wash transaction." It's not allowed to change the equation. But in state-insurance-commissioner-land, wash transactions = "redundant reserves," which can be siphoned off by shareholders (i.e. Goldman Sachs) as if they're actual money. The icing? Tax rules allow the companies to avoid income taxes on these phantom dollars, to the tune of hundreds of millions per deal. That means that even before the inevitable crash that will come from these deals, you are already paying billions to underwrite this perfectly legal fraud. "Remember," says the Times, "Accordia is far from the only company using these techniques. Indirectly, invisibly, the taxpayers are shouldering the cost of these activities, through their taxes." (Edward Ericson Jr.)


The Baltimore Chop continues his tear/rant/analysis of city housing patterns with a rumination on The Millennials and "Baltimore Authenticity." The thesis—one thesis, anyway—is that The Ottobar made Hampden into a destination neighborhood for all those aging scenesters priced out of Fells Point and "Canton" by the galloping "millennials" and their venture-capitalist lottery winnings. He's happy they are here—to a point. The city needs 'em. But, Chop says, please, you cretinous little skin bags, stop saying you're here to make a difference: "We're sure you've been told your whole life that you're special and you'll make a difference but you're not fucking special. Baltimore and Detroit don't want your love. Your fickle bullshit disinvested love. Where will you be when you're 40? In a V2V house you rehabbed yourself or in Sugar Land, Texas? Or maybe Howard County."  He even name-check's Baynard Woods' shunning of the uber-used "vibrant" "(Even if we disagree that drug pushers and street preachers should be welcomed and embraced.)" Then he quotes Studs Terkel quoting an actual steel worker in 1964. Read the quote because it is unbelievable, but whatever its provenance—and Studs was known to use a tape recorder—it is The Truth. Then the Chop says "fuck you" to all these would be authenticates:  "We've got to say it to somebody and we're saying it to you. You get the privilege of being an effete snob. Enjoy it, but understand it is what it is. You don't get to have that and any claim to Authenticity." As blogs go, it is a tour de force. Read it. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

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