Author Archives: Miriam Wasser

Will Trump Dump on Grand Canyon?

Experts Say The Risk of Uranium Mining Near the Grand Canyon Is Not Worth The Reward

Miriam Wasser

Miriam Wasser

If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d probably never come across Canyon Mine, an active uranium mine near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. To get there, you turn off Highway 64, about 11 miles before the South Ranger Station entrance, and follow Forest Service Road 305 through a forest of ponderosa pine, pinyon, and juniper trees.

After five miles, the bumpy unpaved road ends at a metal fence with a few security cameras and “no trespassing” signs mounted on it. Canyon Mine, which is owned and operated by Energy Fuels Resources, isn’t particularly impressive from the outside. Aside from the tall green headframe, there’s a squat building, a few trucks, some rock piles, and a large black plastic-lined storage pool filled with water.

Unlike the big, hellish-looking open pit coal mines of Appalachia, uranium mines tend to leave a much smaller physical imprint on the surface of the earth. In fact, there’s a good chance that if you were visiting the Grand Canyon during the mine’s extraction phase, which is expected to start in the next few years, you’d never know anything was happening.

But Canyon Mine is just one mine. What if there were hundreds of them in the area? …Continue Reading in the Phoenix New Times

FOLLOW THE RUBLES

Hundreds gather in Boston to demand investigation into Trump-Russia ties

Photo by Miriam Wasser

Photo by Miriam Wasser

Against the backdrop of the State House dome and a giant American flag, at least 200 people gathered by the 54th Regiment Memorial in Boston Common Sunday afternoon to demand an independent and thorough investigation into any collusion between President Donald Trump and Russia.

The event was billed “An Emergency Rally to Stand for Democracy,” and many in attendance wore their pink knitted pussy hats from last month’s Women’s March and carried signs or banners.

“If there is even the smallest possibility that Trump conspired with Russians, then an investigation must occur because there has never been a greater threat to democratic principles,” Olivia Hartranft, one of the event organizers, told the crowd.

Hartranft, like every speaker of the day, also invoked the now-famous words of former US Senator Howard Henry Baker Jr., one of the leaders on the Senate committee investigating President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. “What did the president know and when did he know it?”

“We don’t know exactly how, but we know [Trump] is compromised by foreign nations,” said Bob Massie of the Sustainable Solutions Lab at UMASS Boston. In a short speech that sought to place the day’s gathering in a historical context of resistance and activism, Massie, who is considering a 2018 run for governor, also talked about the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers, noting, “They built a Constitution and Bill of Rights that was built on a set of principles that are now in danger. Can our nation continue to endure?” …Continue Reading in DigBoston

POWER STRUGGLE

At Heated Public Meeting, Nuclear Regulators Infuriate Massachusetts Activists With Announcement That Pilgrim Power Plant Will Stay Open

Photo by Miriam Wasser

Photo by Miriam Wasser

About 300 residents of Cape Cod and the South Shore packed into the ballroom of Hotel 1620 in Plymouth last Tuesday, hoping to finally get some answers from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) about the future of the beleaguered operation in their backyard, Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

Though a few dozen people wearing green “I support Pilgrim” pins sat quietly in the back of the room, most in attendance were

longtime anti-nuclear activists and fierce critics of the plant, who at times broke out into chants of “Shut it down! Shut it down!”

“It is critical that the NRC stop pussy-footing around,” Pine DuBois, an organizer with the nonprofit Jones River Watershed Association, told the four-person NRC panel. “You are putting our lives and our environment at risk. We know we’re not safe … and we insist you close this down.”

DuBois’ fear is understandable, given that a serious accident at the plant could threaten the health and safety of an estimated five million people living in the 50-mile “emergency planning zone” around Plymouth—an area that includes Boston and much of Rhode Island.

The meeting lasted about three hours, during which time NRC officials made speeches, answered questions about safety, and listened to a lot of public testimony about the state and status of the plant.

Though many speeches were fiery and riled up the crowd, the night ended on a disappointing note for most in attendance, as the NRC gave no indication that it plans to close Pilgrim for safety violations.

“Allowing Pilgrim to limp along doesn’t demonstrate that the NRC is acting in the public’s best interest,” one speaker said, spurring major applause.

The situation at Pilgrim is, to say the least, complex. The 44-year old plant is technically licensed to operate until 2032 but is expected to close in 2019 because its owner, the Louisiana-based utility company Entergy, isn’t making a profit. (All around the country, cheap natural gas prices have caused a handful of nuclear power plants to shutter in the last few years.)

While 2019 is only a few years away, many of those living in the shadow of the plant believe it isn’t worth the risk to keep it open for that long. In many ways, their concerns stem from the fact that the plant has had multiple safety issues in the last four years and is officially classified as one of the three worst plants in the country by the NRC. …Continue Reading in DigBoston

Into the Woods

Seven Ways the Trump Administration Could Destroy Social Welfare in Arizona

Illustration by Vlad Alvarez

Illustration by Vlad Alvarez

Every day seems to bring another headline about a new nominee from President-elect Donald Trump, and with it, a renewed sense of horror among his critics — a climate-change denier at the Environmental Protection Agency; a retired neurosurgeon with no experience in government or management at Housing and Urban Development; the leader of a fast-food chain who doesn’t believe in minimum wage or workers’ rights at the Department of Labor; the former editor of the alt-right publication Breitbart as chief strategist.

The list goes on.

As Trump has been announcing his cabinet picks, New Times has been interviewing more than two dozen local political leaders and experts from a variety of fields to see what impact they believe the Trump administration will have on social welfare in Arizona.

Health care, education programs, affordable housing, behavioral health and substance abuse programs, services for people with disabilities, protection for the environment — all are funded heavily by federal dollars in a state the U.S. Census Bureau says has an above-average poverty rate, and a governor and legislature not much interested in helping children and those in need.

“If we do what we’ve historically done, we’ll … essentially remove the safety-net programs [for] our vulnerable citizens,” says Eric Meyer, outgoing minority whip for the Arizona House of Representatives.

The wealthiest among us will get tax cuts, if the pattern set by Governor Doug Ducey and the Republican leaders in the Arizona legislature continues.

“They’ve voted over and over again to cut funding for education and other services,” Meyer says, “and in the same stroke of a pen, give tax cuts to corporations or the wealthy.”

Under Trump, there will be social welfare crises throughout the country, but they’re going to be worse in Arizona, says U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), because if the federal government slashes funding, our leaders won’t pick up the slack like leaders in other states might.

“We have a very soulless state government, and they’re just itching to kick people off Medicaid and get rid of the Affordable Care Act. We are definitely going to feel it more than other states are,” he says.

Arizona’s political leadership has long championed a hard-right, fiscally conservative agenda, says local political consultant Bob Grossfeld. In the past, “the political support hasn’t been there or there’s been enough of an opposition to stop them. That’s all going to disappear now; that’s what’s going to make this different,” he says. (Continue reading at the Phoenix New Times.)

The Nuclear Question

The Millennial’s Dilemma: A Young Writer’s Search for Our Nuclear Future in Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Phoenix

Illustration by Randy Pollak

After a cold and drizzly morning this past May, the sun is finally out in the Exclusion Zone, the heavily guarded area around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ukraine.

The circular-shaped zone — which has a radius of 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) — is located about 60 miles north of Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, and about nine miles south of the border with Belarus. It’s full of tall pine trees and big, open, green fields where wild horses and deer graze. The area is so quiet, so deserted, and so overgrown that it’s hard to imagine it was once home to more than 130,000 people.

It took the Soviets five years to build Chernobyl, and the plant began producing power in 1977. Unlike those constructing power plants in the U.S. and western Europe, though, they didn’t build strong concrete and steel containment buildings around their nuclear reactors. So when a safety test went awry on April 26, 1986, and caused a big explosion inside Reactor No. 4, huge amounts of radiation were released into the atmosphere.

Thirty years later, the area is still officially uninhabitable. Most spots inside the 30-kilometer zone aren’t particularly radioactive, but still, anyone who works there — from the guides to the thousands of nuclear scientists, construction workers, cooks and hotel workers, and military security guards — can only spend a certain number of consecutive days inside the zone and must consent to regular medical examinations. Any tourist wishing to visit the area must be part of a government-approved group.

The Exclusion Zone is eerie and decaying, a hauntingly beautiful time capsule. Nine other tour participants and I walk over broken glass, scattered papers, and things I assume were once clothes or blankets. I explore rooms filled with rusty, antiquated medical equipment in an abandoned hospital, and dozens of classrooms filled with desks — sometimes still lined up in rows and piled high with paperback books. There are children’s drawings and alphabet flashcards all over the desks and floors in one of the classrooms, and a giant pile of child-sized gas masks in the corner of another.

In some buildings, we have to creep along the edges of a room because parts of the floor are rotted out. We walk in a zigzag pattern to avoid the leaking ceilings and puddles in long, windowless hallways…

I assume that given the chance to go anywhere, most people wouldn’t choose to visit the site of the world’s largest nuclear disaster. But I did.

I wanted to walk around the overgrown and crumbling central squares of abandoned cities and villages, and see what a house looks like after a frightened family packs only a small bag of belongings and never returns. I wanted to see Chernobyl, 30 years later.

The week before, I had visited Fukushima Prefecture in Japan, home of the second largest nuclear disaster in history, the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (prefectures are the Japanese version of states).

In both cases, I wanted to know how a country recovers from a nuclear accident and how its citizens feel about it, because in the last year, I’ve become obsessed with nuclear power and how I should feel about it.

This all began when I moved to Arizona from the East Coast two years ago and realized that I suddenly was living in the fallout zone of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the country’s largest nuclear power plant. (Continue reading at the Phoenix New Times.)

Yellow River

A Year After Millions of Gallons of Toxic Water Spilled Into the Animas River, Little Has Changed

IMG_1629When Duane “Chili” Yazzie learned that a massive load of bright-yellow toxic mining waste was flowing down the Animas River toward his small farming community in Shiprock, New Mexico, he rushed home and turned on every sprinkler and hose he had.

With the plume of waste about 100 miles upstream from his farm, he figured he had a day or two before it affected his irrigation water. And in the meantime, his crops needed all the clean water he could get.

Shiprock is a sprawling but sparse town of about 9,000 people in the rugged, high-altitude desert of northwest New Mexico. Positioned about halfway between the Arizona border and the city of Farmington, the town is perhaps most notable for the 1,500-foot jagged or “winged” rock piercing through the otherwise-flat ground — early European settlers called the area Shiprock because they thought the formation looked like a large sailboat with multiple masts and sails.

Many in Shiprock rely on farming to make a living or to feed their families, so when officials said they’d be turning off the irrigation water for an undetermined amount of time, a sudden and collective sense of fear overtook the room.

All evening long, as Yazzie allowed the irrigation water to flow into his 100-acre farm, every major news outlet in the country was broadcasting shocking images of the Animas River. The waste, which was reportedly spilling out of the mine at a rate of 600 gallons per minute, was yellow because of the sulfuric acid and heavy metals it contained — lead, arsenic, cadmium, copper, aluminum, zinc, and manganese, among others.

In total, about 880,000 pounds of heavy metals spilled into the river, and some tests showed lead levels in the water were 12,000 times higher than normal.

At 66, Yazzie has black hair streaked with silver that he usually wears pulled back in a braid. He favors bright shirts and beaded jewelry, a color palette that contrasts sharply with his thick, black eyebrows and the deep laugh lines around his mouth. He speaks slowly, deliberately, and often squints or closes his eyes as if he’s trying to formulate just the right sentence in his head before he says it.

“Yellow River,” he calls it. “The day the river turned yellow…” (Continue reading at the Phoenix New Times.)

Catch Him If She Can

Ann Kirkpatrick Is on the Hunt For John McCain — Well, His U.S. Senate Seat, At Least

Photo by Jim Louvau/New Times

Photo by Jim Louvau/New Times

If there’s one thing Ann Kirkpatrick doesn’t want to talk about, it’s John McCain.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, the congresswoman is seated at a long wooden table in a boardroom in Tucson. She’s just finished a round-table discussion with 20 men and women who work with veterans, and managed to go the entire hour without anyone mentioning the five-time Senate incumbent she’s trying to unseat this November.

And now, as she rests her forearms on the table and answers a question about her life before politics, she looks almost excited, as if she’s gotten away with something.

She tucks her shoulder-length brown hair behind her ears, revealing a pair of silver and turquoise earrings, and smiles, waiting for the next question.

“What’s it like to run against John McCain?” she’s asked.

“Well, I think more about it like I’m running for Arizona,” she replies, not missing a beat. “I’ve seen Arizona go through too many boom-and-bust cycles over my lifetime, and so my work and my vision for Arizona is really about building a strong, diverse, stable economy.”

She makes eye contact with the journalist across the table. Smiles again. This isn’t her first rodeo.

Asked whether she’s running a pro-Ann Kirkpatrick campaign or an anti-John McCain campaign — given that her TV ads, daily e-mails, and tweets always target the incumbent — she demurs, changing the subject.

“I’m running on the vision that I have for Arizona. That’s what drives me; that’s what my work is about,” she answers, glancing quickly at the smiling campaign staffer also sitting at the table. “And look, I’m out all over the state, and unemployment is still really high in the tribal and rural areas. This is still about jobs; it’s really about jobs.”

When pressed about the campaign message, Kirkpatrick doesn’t squirm in her seat or fidget, but the corners of her smile do droop just slightly, as if she’s either annoyed by the question — or bored.

Given the opportunity, Kirkpatrick prefers to talk about the challenges facing working-class families and veterans or bolstering Arizona’s infrastructure. She’ll talk your ear off about water policy or the problems with mining uranium in the Grand Canyon. And having grown up in rural Arizona on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, she has plenty to say about local and national policies that affect farmers, loggers, and tribes.

But a few minutes later, while talking about the things she’s been hearing from people on the campaign trail — their fears about the cost of education or their struggles to access their VA benefits — she slips up.

“[People] are very concerned about the vicious, hateful, racist, insulting things that Donald Trump has said, and they want somebody who will stand up to Trump. And I hear from a lot of people who don’t think that’s John McCain,” she says. “I mean, Trump insulted John McCain, and he hasn’t stood up to him.”

With that, she pivots and begins talking about a recent round-table event she had with Latino business leaders and the importance of supporting entrepreneurship.

Ann Kirkpatrick might not want to talk about John McCain, but even she can’t help it. (Continue reading at the Phoenix New Times.)

The Trouble With Sex

Why the Phoenix Goddess Temple Founder Insists She’s a Priestess, Not a Prostitute

GoddessTemple_AllenDouglasTracy Elise thinks we have a sex problem in Arizona.

As someone who has studied ancient sex practices for more than two decades and served as the head priestess at a Tantric temple in Phoenix, she should know.

She thinks we don’t talk about sex and orgasms enough, and that when we do, the discussion is hampered by the conflicting teachings we get from religious authorities and pornography.

She thinks that the human orgasm is a religious experience, and that sexual energy has tremendous healing powers, but that we don’t take advantage of it.

And she thinks a lot of men don’t know how to honor, worship, or treat women like goddesses — a problem that fuels a cycle of women having bad sexual experiences that prevent them from attaining their orgasmic potential.

“Sexuality is natural, it’s necessary, and a lot of it happens with ignorance,” Elise says. “I’m sad about what’s happening with orgasms: They’re meant to be a shared experience, but people are having them alone, if they’re having them at all.”

These problems aren’t necessarily unique to Arizona, she says, but because state leaders lean so far to the political right, our chances of fixing these problems on our own are grim.

That’s not to say all is doomed. As a priestess, healer, and minister of Tantra — the religion she practices to further the sexual and spiritual health of society — she says she’s successfully helped many people overcome a wide variety of sexual and emotional problems…. (Continue reading in The Phoenix New Times.)

Sugar U.

As University Tuition Skyrockets, Arizona Coeds Turn to Sugar Daddies to Cover Costs

sugaru-cover-timlaneWhen Victoria was 15, her father took her to the Red Light District in Amsterdam.

“Vicky,” he said, pointing to the women dancing behind the glass of a shop window, “if you don’t go to college, you’ll end up like this.”

More than a decade later, Victoria sits in a dimly lit booth at the Cheesecake Factory in Tucson Mall on a Tuesday night, a year away from getting a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Arizona.

At 28, she’s older than most students. And with surgically plumped lips, veneer-capped teeth, and Ugg boots covered in red rhinestones, she doesn’t look like them, either.

She was early today, early enough to have already ordered and finished a salad by the time her slightly late dinner date arrived, so she sips lemonade from a sugar-rimmed glass while talking about the classes she’s taking this semester: two studio art classes, art history, and a digital communications course.

But she doesn’t want to talk about school. She’d rather discuss her plan to become a photographer for a luxury lifestyle magazine or her favorite hobby: shopping.

She describes her closet full of clothes from “Bloomies” and Victoria’s Secret and gushes about the chocolatey perfume she’s obsessed with these days. It costs $375 a bottle.

At some point, she mentions that she grew up poor in Virginia — her father was in the U.S. Marines and her mother was a hairdresser — but not in a defensive way, just to highlight that her life wasn’t always like this. In fact, just two semesters ago, she felt like a lot of college students: uncertain she’d graduate because she couldn’t afford tuition.

But money isn’t an issue anymore because Victoria has a sugar daddy — three, to be precise.

She met them through Seeking Arrangement, the leading matchmaking website for sugar daddies (usually older wealthy men) and sugar babies (usually young attractive women) looking to connect for “mutually beneficial arrangements.” She says she’s romantically involved with two of the men (one is 57 and the other is 62) but just friends with the third. He’s 81…. (Continue reading in the Phoenix New Times.)

Shielded

A Phoenix cop might go to jail for sexual assault, but a little-known state law will protect his employer from fault.

ShieldedJane was certain the police officer was about to hurt or kill her. She sat handcuffed and sobbing in the back of his patrol car in a corner of a dark Walgreens parking lot in the middle of a hot night in June.

Phoenix Police Officer Timothy Morris isn’t particularly tall, about 5-foot-9, but as he stood by the open back door — his arm casually placed above the door frame, his belt buckle and gun level with her face — it felt to Jane that he towered over her…

 

Morris began by asking Jane about her sex life and sexual history: Was she a virgin? Had she ever had sex with a man? What about anal sex?

She says she was terrified and crying and told him something she rarely tells people: She was molested as a child. “She was hoping she would not be forced to have sex with the officer,” the police report states.

Jane later told police that she finally asked Morris what he wanted because he wouldn’t stop asking her uncomfortable questions. He didn’t answer, just continued to stare at her.

“I asked him if he wanted a hand job or a blow job because I was afraid he was going to hurt me or rape me,” Jane says.

She pauses for a moment and adds, “I thought I had no choice . . . I didn’t think he was going to let me go.”

“No, I want the whole caboodle. I want it all,” she remembers him saying…. (Continue reading in The Phoenix New Times.)