Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Sicilian Farmers Take Over Mob Land

Photo by gnuckx. Some rights reserved.

Photo by gnuckx. Some rights reserved.

I don’t know that I’ve ever met a mobster in real life; in fact I think it would be safe to assume I haven’t. Still, I’ve seen enough about the mafia in film and television to know you wouldn’t want to make them angry by, say, stealing their stuff. Yet in a way, that’s exactly what Sicilian agricultural group Libera Terra are doing. Well, they’re not stealing, exactly – instead, they’re using land in Sicily formerly owned by the mafia (since seized by the government) as shared farming space to grow grains, fruits, olives, etc.

The story of Libera Terra (which I have to credit Modern Farmer for turning me on to) begins in 2001, when the Cooperativa Placido Rizzotto (one of the branches of Libera Terra – each is named after a slain mob victim from the region) began operations. Those involved say it was slow goings at first – many in the area feared retaliation from the Cosa Nostra for what could be interpreted as disrespect for former mafia property. However, over the following years, with little violence to point to as evidence and with the assistance of a police presence protecting the farmland, local farmers began to change their attitude.

Now, there are over 200 people involved in the Libera Terra network’s eight different coops, producing a total of over 70 products (wines, oils, jams, and other artisinal goods) sold internationally for a gross annual income of over 6 million Euros (or $8.2 million). Those are impressive figures for any coop, let alone one built from the ashes of a criminal empire!

Do We Have Your Attention Now?

via WikiMedia Commons

via WikiMedia Commons

Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully. – Samuel Johnson

Nobody ever said it would be easy. There’s lots of natural gas in the ground. We’ve been siphoning it up from the ground for years. But supplies dwindled as traditional fields yielded less and less gas. Fracking has brought a new production bonanza to states around the Union. Inevitably, protests have come hand in hand with increased production. This summer has been dubbed #FearlessSummer by environmentalists opposed to the extraction and carbon energy industries.

Fracking is dirty work. It can pollute ground water, endangering wells and agricultural water, and it produces a tremendous amount of waste. The byproduct of fracking is a wicked stew of proprietary chemicals and water used to force natural gas out of its ancient hiding places underground.

One of the sources of particular ire in the environmental circles is the seeming impunity with which energy companies have been able to pursue natural gas over hill and under dale. The companies rely on eminent domain to site their drilling rigs, and have been largely shielded from liability for environmental damage they have caused while feeding the country’s unquenchable demand for energy.

XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil settled with the Environmental Protection Agency over a 50 thousand gallon spill of fracking slurry at one of its storage tanks in Pennsylvania. Without admitting liability, it agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and implement a more rigorous waste water management regime. It also hauled away some 3,000 tons of contaminated soil.

All well and good as far as the Feds and XTO were concerned. Environmentalists,  not so much. Also not so pleased – the Pennsylvania state Attorney General. Last Tuesday, Attorney General Kathleen Kane filed criminal charges against XTO over the 2010 spill. Not civil. Criminal. That’s a first. No other Marcellus Shale production company has ever faced criminal charges.

Environmentalists are giddy over the prosecution, comparing it to the genteel supervision the company has received from state regulators. Energy industry representatives went ballistic, as well they might, accusing Kane of doing some polluting of her own – of the business environment – and sending a “chilling message” to the energy business.

But Kane’s office insists it wasn’t going off half-cocked. “The prosecutorial powers of this office are used carefully and with great consideration,” First Deputy Attorney General Adrian R. King Jr. said through a spokeswoman. “We closely examine the facts and the applicable law in each case and proceed accordingly.” And Kane’s office didn’t arrive at the charges by itself. It was a grand jury that handed down the charges.

Settlements like the one XTO reached with federal regulators are just a cost of doing business for an enormous company like ExxonMobil. Criminal charges, on the other hand, take the risk/benefit calculation to a whole new level. The Pennsylvania charges have ignited a furor and are sure to be fought by an industry red in tooth and claw. But as the good doctor observed to his friend Boswell, the gallows sharpens the mind. The prospect of standing in the dock is likely to do the same for the captains of the energy industry.



New Study Suggests That Trees Are Effective Crimefighters

Photo by Geograph. Some rights reserved.

In a very unique new study (put together by Austin Troy and Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne of the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and J. Morgan Grove of the USDA Forest Service’s Research Division), research suggests that urban tree coverage in Baltimore serves as a deterrent to robbery, burglary, theft, and shooting. The study’s “more conservative spatially adjusted model indicated that a 10% increase in tree canopy was associated with a roughly 12% decrease in crime,” going against earlier theories that more densely planted trees will encourage criminals by giving them coverage to hide in.

Grist rightly points out these findings’ relation to the “broken window theory” (and gets right to it with the Wire references. I’ll spare you those, just go watch that show if you haven’t already!). This theory suggests that the upkeep of an urban environment’s appearance can have a drastic effect in reducing its crime. In this case, the planting and fostering of lush tree life suggests a healthy neighborhood watch, and would discourage criminals by enforcing the idea that the neighborhood is well protected by its community.

This is not a new idea. Similar studies and debates have existed for decades – the University of Washington’s Forestry Department had similar findings in their own study of trees’ relation to inner city crime. Some fast facts from their study include:

  • “Public housing residents with nearby trees and natural landscapes reported 25% fewer acts of domestic aggression and violence.
  • “Public housing buildings with greater amounts of vegetation had 52% fewer total crimes, 48% fewer property crimes, and 56% fewer violent crimes than buildings with low amounts of vegetation.
  • “In a study of community policing innovations, there was a 20% overall decrease in calls to police from the parts of town that received location-specific treatments. Cleaning up vacant lots was one of the most effective treatment strategies.”
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