Archive for June, 2009

View of Lake Michigan: New efforts to reverse centuries of abuse

June 27th, 2009

At the [ economist ]

IT IS high season for a sliver of sand in Portage, Indiana. A pretty visitors’ centre sells ice cream. Lake Michigan shimmers in the sun. And beside the beach is a roaring steel mill. Swimmers enter the water at their own risk.

The Great Lakes—Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario and Longfellow’s “shining Big-Sea-Water”, Lake Superior—comprise one-fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. They have also endured centuries of abuse. But advocates are cheerful these days. Barack Obama’s budget proposes $475m for restoration. In June he appointed a Great Lakes tsar, Cameron Davis, to begin work in July. There is much to do

he 1970s brought reform, such as the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement that sought to restore the lakes’ “chemical, physical and biological integrity”. But problems remain. Sewage systems continue to overflow, forcing many beaches to close. Levels of some toxins in fish have declined, but others pose new risks. Atlantic freighters still bring in foreign species—there are now 185. Regulations are tangled. In 2007 a refinery in Indiana received a permit to increase discharges into Lake Michigan. Only public uproar prevented it.

Better co-ordination would help. The Great Lakes region includes two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Quebec) and eight American states—Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. A report in 2003 counted 148 federal and 51 state programmes to restore the lakes. The region’s many swing states ensure periodic attention. In 2004 George Bush ordered a broad restoration plan to be drawn up. Implementing it would cost more than $20 billion. Little money, however, has been provided. It is still unclear who is in charge.

This may begin to change. On June 13th the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, announced that a treaty governing the waters between America and Canada would be updated. Mr Obama’s $475m would be the largest single investment of any president yet. Mr Davis, a respected advocate, may bring order to disjointed programmes.

Just as promising, restoration is increasingly seen as an economic boon, not a drain. The Brookings Institution, a think-tank, found that spending $26 billion to clean the lakes would bring benefits of at least $80 billion. As manufacturing dwindles, the lakes may attract new firms and workers. Chicago’s twinkling lakefront has been an important draw, a taste of the Mediterranean in the Midwest. Indiana’s shore is still lined with steel plants and refineries. But Portage’s beach, which opened last year, is the first step in an effort to reclaim the lakefront. The new plans are a nudge in the right direction.

Thomas Case Studies, Environment, Northwest Indiana, Planning Mishaps, View of Lake Michigan

Work in Progress

June 14th, 2009

I tend to work on a body of paintings simultaneously. They are all encaustic and mix media on canvas. As I just commented to a friend I can’t say they are finished yet but some are. Some are just testing ideas. Some are opening new ideas. And some are ready to close an idea or abandon it.

The First four paintings and the last three in this group are 42″ x 48″. The remaining images range from 8″ x 10″ to 22″ x 24″. 

(click on images to enlarge)


Thomas In My Studio

Studio Visit: Tom Torluemke

June 9th, 2009

[ Tom Torluemke ]

There are all sorts of good reasons to visit a studio. Some of the best reasons come to you when you are there or perhaps days later. I’ve wanted to visit Tom’s studio for a long now - to get a better look at what is behind his energy to produce. But when you come in with a camera - well things are just…

We all know that a person’s space can tell us a lot about the person and where a piece of work comes from. Sometimes a space can reveal a lot about their journey and where they come from or may be not. Tom’s most recent studio is in the basement of his home in Dyer Indiana. I visited with him there as he was preparing to meet with Greg Knight, Curator of the Chicago Cultural Center to discuss work selection for his upcoming show “After Glow.”


a favorite seat

The occasion offered the opportunity to discuss the art culture in Northwest Indiana and issues on our visual culture, painting and the making of art that I hope to continue later when I am not so opened eyed about Tom’s surroundings. 



Tom Torluemke has been a tremendous asset to Northwest Indiana, fostering a generation of young artist, while encouraging and producing most of the public art in the region. He is enormously prolific producing catalogues of work. 

For a better view of Tom’s work, you can visit the Chicago Cultural Center during to summer or his website. I hope to do another post focused on Tom’s work along with an art statement. 

Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington
Chicago, IL

Exhibit Dates: July 3 - September 27

Opening Reception: Friday, July 10  (6:00 - 8:00 p.m.)

Thomas Studio Visits

Education Attainment & Unemployment Rate

June 7th, 2009

For the past five years I have repeatedly spoken about the correlation between Education Attainment and the Unemployment rate and what that means for East Chicagoans. But first some data on East Chicago:

  • Today <2% of East Chicagoans hold a college degree, well below the national average of 24%.
  • ~40% of the Adult population is considered functionally illiterate, with ~70% of adults incapable of attaining a professional job based on reading attainment.
  • Today the unemployment rate in East Chicago is >24%. Despite the efforts of the city to employ ~12% of those in the workforce, serving ~18% of households with a paycheck and ~28% of the electorate with a city job.

For a community like East Chicago the data presented in the graphs below are especially poignant. What I find rather remarkable about the graph is that you can clearly see, in the last 17 years, as educational attainment increases the less vulnerable you are to market fluctuations. You can see how the red line is so much more eradicate with a steep increase in reaction to todays recession. This may begin to flatten out as America rededicates more of it economy to manufacturing. Yet, unlike 20 years ago manufacturing has become an educated affair, requiring at minimum an associates degree.

Forty years ago when nearly 70% of jobs were found in unskilled labor, most East Chicago graduates were able to go to the Mills for one of a 100,000 steel or steel related jobs in East Chicago. Today 70% of jobs are found in professional services that require a College education. With the advances in technology and globalization East Chicago now employs less than 5,000 workers in steel and steel related jobs, all while production has increased a hundred fold. So, if you are preparing a population for where the vast majority of the jobs are (70%), then you are preparing them to receive a College education. That is the easiest solution towards employing a population. The more difficult solution is to find jobs for the under-educated.

via [ Calculated Risk ] In today’s employment market:

  • Those without a High School Diploma face an unemployment rate of ~16%
  • Those with a High School Diploma, but no College face an unemployment rate of ~10%
  • Those with some College or Associates Degree face an unemployment rate of ~8%
  • Those with a Bachelors Degree and higher face an unemployment rate of ~5%

Based on the BLS 2008 data: Education pays

This data does not bode well for East Chicago’s education system (here, and here) which ranks last in the state of Indiana on multiply measures. Indiana has also instituted a Core-40 program to track students and to ensure they receive the necessary skills to succeed. However, Core-40 will leave most East Chicago students without the proper credentials to apply to universities such as Purdue or Indiana University which now require Core-40 Honors. Despite the efforts of non-government agencies most parents of East Chicago freshmen are unaware of these requirements and the process for applying into the proper program. The Challenge is to set up an education system that incentives populations like East Chicago.

Thomas East Chicago, Economics, Misc

Alberta Tar Sands

June 6th, 2009

In the span of Human history, the Alberta Tar Sands project is the largest industrial project initiated by Humans, larger than China’s 3 Gorges Dam. This project is the driving force behind the BP expansion here in East Chicago, and the air I will be expected to breath.

Andrew Nikiforuk’s video is about the best overview of the project I have found.

Some from the energy sector argue that if Americans continue to consume energy at present rate of increase then this is not a project of choice but of necessity. Unfortunately that discussion has not been held in public. What this project does tells us is that the present condition of our energy sector is struggling severely to keep up with the energy demands of the American life style in an environment of diminishing efficient resources. Seven years ago the American energy sector shifted its reliance from the Sweet Crude of Saudi Arabia to the Sour Dirty Crude of the Tar Sands. Since then we have attempted to rely on far inferior energy resources to support our high energy consumptive life style.

With the Tar Sands the energy return on energy investment (EROEI) falls


  • 1-barrel investment to produce 100-barrels of product (for sweet crude)


  • 1-barrel investment to produce 5-barrels of product (for dirty sour crude from the Tar Sands)

The fact that we are shifting our dependence on a resource with such diminished efficiencies reveals some of the true costs of the last sixty years. Other costs include:

  • Deforestation: The tar sands ranks second to the Amazon Rainforest Basin in its rate of deforestation on the planet, and wiping out the ancient Boreal Forest in Canada.
  • Increased CO2 Emissions: The tar sands mining procedure releases at least three times the CO2 emissions as regular oil production.

What I can gather from my minor position is that our obvious neglect of exponential growth and demand has reframed the discussion and limited the realm of possible solutions for our energy needs. A generation of ineffective confrontation with clear evidence puts us at this disadvantage. I realize I need to come to grips with the fact that we live in an era where positive action is a lagging indicator.

Most Americans have no knowledge of this colossal project. They have no knowledge of the reasons why it has been initiated nor the socio-economic and environmental impacts it may have. They just know that the cost of gas has gone up. The issues surrounding the project are only just beginning to enter the public discourse - long after our public and commercial leaders have committed us to this solution.

Recently, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu addressed the issue publicly (not behind closed doors as in Cheney’s Energy Task Force).

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the Reuters Global Energy Summit that the balance between the environmental impact from the huge energy resource in northern Alberta and its importance to U.S. energy supply is a complicated one that will require solutions from the industry.

Environmental groups have mounted major campaigns to get the message out to Americans that the expansion of Canada’s oil sands industry threatens to intensify global warming, deforestation and damage to water resources.

“It’s a complicated issue, because certainly Canada is a close and trusted neighbor and the oil from Canada has all sorts of good things. But there is this environmental concern, so I think we’re going to have to work our way through that,” he said. “But I’m a big believer in technology.”

Canada is the largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States and its oil sands represent the biggest deposits of crude outside the Middle East.

The Canadian and Alberta governments as well as the oil industry are going to great lengths to ensure that U.S. energy and environmental policies do not put oil sands-derived crude at a disadvantage in its most important market.

The resource is mined in open pits as well as produced in wells with the aide of steam pumped into the ground. Then it must be processed by upgrading plants into light oil that can be fed into refineries.

There is concern about the large amount of energy required to produce oil sands, Chu said. He said Canadian producers point out they are making strides in extracting the crude “more cleanly.”

Cutting the energy used to extract a barrel of oil sands crude would be “economically good and it will be environmentally much better,” he said.

- via [ Business Insider ]

Thomas BP / TAR SANDS, Energy, Environment, Tar Sands

The Air I Breath: Community Groups Give Notice to BP

June 6th, 2009

[ NWI Times ]

CROWN POINT | The Hammond-based Calumet Project and the California-based Global Community Monitor, have notified BP Whiting Refinery of their intention to sue under citizen suit provisions of the federal Clean Air Act.

The potential lawsuit will press for penalties that could total more than $30 million.

Thomas BP / TAR SANDS, East Chicago, Energy, The Air I Breath

E.C. gets federal money to revitalize North Harbor

June 6th, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS | East Chicago will receive $1.9 million to bolster its long-term revitalization plan for the North Harbor neighborhood, Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman announced Wednesday.

“That’s a great number for us,” said John Artis, executive director of the East Chicago Redevelopment Department. “The money the state is going to be providing to us will go a long ways toward furthering the vision we have for the North Harbor redevelopment initiative.”

The federal neighborhood revitalization dollars will help finance new residential construction, including a 60-unit building for seniors, rental properties and townhouses available to buy. It’s part of a major overhaul of the neighborhood centered at Broadway and Main.

The city, which had requested $4.6 million, currently is developing 75 townhouses, and it has spent more than $10 million on park and street improvements in North Harbor since 2006. A zoning change prohibits bars and liquor stores from locating in the neighborhood.

The city is working with The Community Builders and the Hispanic Housing Development Corp., both nonprofits. East Chicago is one of 21 communities that will share $50 million in neighborhood revitalization funding Indiana received last fall.

E.C. gets federal money to revitalize North Harbor /

Thomas East Chicago, Urbanism

The Air I Breath: BP Cited for High Benzene Releases

June 5th, 2009

[ Post Trib ]

By Gitte Laasby, Post-Tribune staff writer (The only legitimate Environmental Reporter in the Region)

For nearly six years, BP’s Whiting refinery emitted cancer-causing benzene at its wastewater treatment plant without proper air pollution control equipment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

BP in Whiting cited for high benzene release :: Local News :: Post-Tribune.

There is a saying “You are what you eat.” But what about what you breath or drink?

What bothers me intensely about this report is that the USEPA allowed these releases to continue for six years before citing BP on such an egregious violation the of the Clean Air Act. That is six years to which MY NEW BORN CHILDREN were chronically exposed. And the USEPA knew every day that they were being exposed and did NOTHING. This is a toxin that we know one part per billion can cause cancer.

Additionally, during the permitting process for the BP Expansion these past several years the USEPA never disclosed these violations, but defended and promoted BP’s clean record of good environmental stewardship in the region. Consequently, East Chicago awarded BP $165 million in tax abatements. All while the EPA held evidence that BP was exposing the residence to such high levels of toxins.

UPDATE (On the Wire):

WASHINGTON | Members of Congress’ Great Lakes Caucus are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to review all of BP’s emissions after reports that the BP Whiting Refinery has been violating clean air standards.

In a letter, 18 members of Congress from Illinois, New York, Wisconsin and Michigan asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to closely examine BP’s emissions.

BP’s facility in Whiting is the largest oil refinery in the Midwest. Its critics say it also is a large source of pollution in the Great Lakes region.

MORE:View the EPA’s violation notice to BP.

Members of the caucus tell Jackson that the Great Lakes are “the crown jewel of our nation” and should be protected. They say the EPA should ensure that BP fully complies with the environmental protection laws and permits.

The EPA on Tuesday cited the Whiting Refinery for violating federal air standards by releasing a cancer-causing toxin in waste from 2003 to 2008, which at times reached 16 times the acceptable limit, EPA officials said.

I find it curious that there are no East Chicago Elected Officials asking for answers? Our Mayor and City Council represent the health and welfare of Citizens of East Chicago who live under the plumb of BP’s violations. And where is the voice of the City’s Health Commissioner on this issue? Of any population East Chicagoan’s are the most exposed and their children the most vulnerable - not the Residents of Illinois, Wisconsin or Michigan. And yet their representatives understand the gravity of the violation and the threat it poses to the health and welfare of the populations they represent. They are the ones asking for answer while East Chicago and Northwest Indiana Elected Officials remain silent.

Why the Silence?

This is a serious violation of the clear Air act and our Elected Officials ought to be associated with the asking for answers.

Thomas BP / TAR SANDS, East Chicago, The Air I Breath

Judge Orders Duke Energy to Shut down 40% of Coal Burning Power Units

June 5th, 2009

[ PRNewsWire ]

PLAINFIELD, Ind., May 29 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Judge Larry McKinney today issued a ruling in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana calling for Duke Energy to shut down three units at the company’s West Terre Haute Wabash River Station no later than Sept. 30, 2009.

Judge Issues Ruling on Wabash River Power Plant

Thomas Energy, Environment

Max, Max, Max

June 5th, 2009

[ Max Blumenthal ] In Jerusalem on the eve of Obama’s speech in Cairo. 


Thomas International

Eyes that See: Herb and Dorothy Vogel

June 4th, 2009

[ Herb & Dorothy ] Opening in NYC Friday 6/5/09 (not yet scheduled for release in Chicago)

“The incredible true story of a postal worker and a librarian who built a world-class collection”

HERB & DOROTHY Trailer from Herb and Dorothy on Vimeo.


HERB & DOROTHY tells the extraordinary story of Herbert Vogel, a postal clerk, and Dorothy Vogel, a librarian, who managed to build one of the most important contemporary art collections in history with very modest means. In the early 1960s, when very little attention was paid to Minimalist and Conceptual Art, Herb and Dorothy Vogel quietly began purchasing the works of unknown artists. Devoting all of Herb’s salary to purchase art they liked, and living on Dorothy’s paycheck alone, they continued collecting artworks guided by two rules: the piece had to be affordable, and it had to be small enough to fit in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Within these limitations, they proved themselves curatorial visionaries; most of those they supported and befriended went on to become world-renowned artists including Sol LeWitt, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close, Robert Mangold, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Lynda Benglis, Pat Steir, Robert Barry, Lucio Pozzi, and Lawrence Weiner. 

After thirty years of meticulous collecting and buying, the Vogels managed to accumulate over 2,000 pieces, filling every corner of their tiny one bedroom apartment. “Not even a toothpick could be squeezed into the apartment,” recalls Dorothy. In 1992, the Vogels decided to move their entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The vast majority of their collection was given as a gift to the institution. Many of the works they acquired appreciated so significantly over the years that their collection today is worth millions of dollars. Still, the Vogels never sold a single piece. Today Herb and Dorothy still live in the same apartment in New York with 19 turtles, lots of fish, and one cat. They’ve refilled it with piles of new art they’ve acquired.

Thomas General Arts

Indiana Governor Slashes Funding for the Arts by 50%

June 4th, 2009

via [ Indiana Arts Commission ]

My Man Mitch” a Remnant of Bush era “Wrecking Crew” continues to reek havoc on the welfare of Indiana. Today, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, and George Bush’s Budget Director announced a 50% cut in the Indiana Arts Commission (IAC) budget. When are we going to be free of the neo-con economy? 

As you may know, Governor Mitch Daniels rejected the budget the Indiana Legislature presented to him at the end of April. In both the House and Senate versions of the budget, the Indiana Arts Commission (IAC) was treated fairly, with an 8% cut like other state agencies. This was in response to Governor Daniels initial budget proposal which would have slashed the IAC’s budget by 50%!

Today, Governor Daniels released a new budget for the special session of the Legislature that will be called for later this month. His budget AGAIN calls for a 50% reduction of the IAC, from approximately $4M to $2M a year for the next biennium. This loss of support for our state’s arts infrastructure will put community and regional arts organizations of all sizes and types at risk of going out of business.

Your legislators need to hear from you NOW. Only they can create a budget which treats the arts fairly. Only they know the many constituents and organizations which will be irreparably hurt by this proposed, massive cut.

All of us who understand the value of the arts were shocked that the Governor would ignore the message sent by both Houses, by legislators on either side of the aisle. That message is the arts in our state need to be treated fairly when it comes to governmental support as they are a vital piece of the solution to our economic downturn and highly valued by our citizens.

- Indiana Arts Commission (IAC)

Thomas General Arts

Promise of the Next Wave

June 3rd, 2009

[ Pete Zelchenko ] points me to Google Wave.

Google releases a developer preview of Google Wave, a new tool for communication and collaboration on the web. An integration tool based on the social networking metaphors of Facebook for project managers.  

Thomas Misc

Embedding Meaning and the Taking of Territory: The Cult of Jewish Settlements

June 3rd, 2009

via [ The Independent ]

One strategy of an intelligent society to gain territory is to attempt to embed meaning and cultural significance in a particular place. This is what Israel is doing with plans for a Jewish Archaeological Theme Park in Palestinian territory. 

On the eve of President Obama’s visit to the Middle East and his speech in Cairo. Max Blumenthal propels himself again into the middle of (it). Like many of his video reports Max places himself in the middle of his opponents power celebrations with a fearful and driven edge in his voice he again struggles for composure on the issues. Some of this composure may come from editing. Regardless he relies on the tradition of a truth to power journalism, a tradition that may not be as well respected in other parts of the world, not that it is so respected here in the U.S. 


Video journalist Max Blumenthal talks to many in the Jewish settler movement who put it all out there. Winners of the Moskowitz Prize state frankly that they want to continue the ethnic cleansing of Occupied Territories — and young kids parrot the meme that Palestinians have no right to lands that are Israel’s holy lands.

This cult of land expropriators needs to be rolled back. I understand the realities that there are certain settlements that will remain part of Israel when a Palestinian state is created — but in a fair land swap.

But the expansion of settlements that “bingo tycoon” Irving Moskowitz keeps pushing is undermining the security interests of all parties in the region — particularly Israel’s.

Blumenthal’s work is some of the most vital and creative journalism out there today.

- Steve Clemens

Thomas International